Atlantique review: Mati Diop combines Djibril Mambety's avant-garde sensibilities with Claire Denis' visual poetry

Atlantique departs from the conventions of your typical sociorealist fables with some truly transformative moments of visual poetry.

Prahlad Srihari May 18, 2019 12:40:01 IST

3.5/5

The stark reality of life in the post-colonial, post-industrial landscape of Dakar is transformed into the magical and meditative in Mati Diop’s Atlantique, which premiered on Thursday at the 2019 Festival de Cannes.

Atlantique review Mati Diop combines Djibril Mambetys avantgarde sensibilities with Claire Denis visual poetry

Mama Sane in a still from Atlantique. Festival de Cannes

The French-Senegalese filmmaker became the first black woman to have a film in competition at the festival. She is the niece of Djibril Diop Mambety, the director behind the Senegalese drama Touki Bouki, which premiered at Cannes in 1973. Diop also starred in her mentor Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum before going on to make a number of acclaimed shorts. With Atlantique, she combines her uncle's avant-garde sensibilities with the visual poetry of her mentor's films.

Atlantique opens with a group of construction workers who are angry over not being paid for over three months. After the foreman assures them their wages will be paid after their boss resolves his cash-flow issues, they return to their towns. Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore) rekindles his relationship with Ada (Mama Sane), a young woman trapped by her strict, iron-fisted parents and soon-to-be-married to a wealthier guy from the city.

In search of work, Souleiman and his fellow co-workers make the perilous journey across the Atlantic towards a better future. Sadly, they are feared to have drowned — a fate suffered by thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants. But this is not another harrowing story of an ill-fated journey. Diop instead turns the camera on Ada and all the other women left behind. The story quickly shifts from a star-crossed romance to detective drama to supernatural revenge film, keeping its mystery wide open until the end.

Atlantique review Mati Diop combines Djibril Mambetys avantgarde sensibilities with Claire Denis visual poetry

(From L-R) Mama Sane, Mati Diop and Ibrahima Traoré during the photocall for Atlantique at Palais de Festival, Cannes. Image via Twitter

Atlantique departs from the conventions of your typical sociorealist fables with some truly transformative moments of visual poetry. Despite being a bit of a slowburn, it immerses you even when the camera lingers on simple everyday scenes. With slow, silent exploration of spaces and extreme close-ups, Diop elevates the film from a sequence of events to a state of mind. There's a titillating sense of adventure in her shots that lend themselves exceptionally well to the story — and often add a magical, dreamlike quality to it. The music further underscores its visual lyricism.

Though unevenly told and at times too sedate for its own good, Atlantique still marks an exceptional feature debut for its writer-director, Mati Diop. So, do watch out for this one!

Director: Mati Diop
Cast: Mama Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traore, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Diankou Sembene

Atlantique had its world premiere at the 72nd Festival de Cannes.

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