ATLANTICS: FILM REVIEW
Often, when I think of films that possess science fiction qualities, over-saturated CGI-heavy teenage movies come to mind -- The Hunger Games or Divergent or The Matrix for example. However, over the last year, films like Atlantics and Bacurau have completely shifted my perspective of science fiction. Although both these films remain largely realistic, the elements of sci-fi they manage to incorporate possess a particularly eerie quality, as it treads the line very carefully between fact and fiction.
French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s Atlantics is equally haunting as it is mesmerizing. The film delicately portrays young love as something that is both phenomenal and fleeting. Atlantics takes place in Senegal and follows a 17-year old girl named Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), who is set to marry a rich man named Omar (Babacar Sylla). However, she is in love with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore), a poor underpaid construction worker. One of the first scenes of the film captures a playful but passionate relationship between Ada and Souleiman, who sneak out to the beach to see each other. Souleiman asks for another kiss, and Ada tells him to wait for later that night. Little does she know, there would be no “later,” as Souleiman and other construction workers leave on a boat to Spain that night in hope of searching for better work.
This is when the mood of the film shifts. Strange things begin to happen in the town after their departure; Omar’s mattress is set on fire and residents develop feverish physical ailments. Soon it becomes clear that the spirits of the boys lost at sea have come back to possess women with white eyes, who demand justice and fair wages from their old masters. However, unlike his peers, Souleiman’s spirit comes back for Ada. He embodies a local detective (Amadou Mbow) to commit acts of jealousy for love. It is important to note that Souleiman’s spirit is the only one that possesses a male body.
The society presented in Atlantics is a web of patriarchy and inequality. This is apparent right off the bat, as the construction workers are severely underpaid for harsh labor and have to sacrifice their comfort and loved ones for potentially better working wages. This is a reality that immigrants across the world face, and the sacrifices they make are further magnified in Atlantics as the boys’ ship is overturned at sea. Inequality plagues gender norms as well, in that the women in Atlantics exist to appease and be controlled by men. Ada is set to marry a man she doesn’t want to, and women only show up to the local club to meet the men. When the boys’ spirits embody the women’s bodies, Diop makes a clear point that women in society are controlled by the expectations and needs of men. The women are seen as just a physical object: a body that can be taken or a hymen that must remain intact unless the man says otherwise.
The cinematography in Atlantics reminds me of that in Moonlight, in that a myriad of scenes are of a dark blue toned aesthetic and filled with breathtaking shots of the vast and constantly moving sea. The sea not only acts as a transition between scenes, but also takes on a life of its own. A lonely narration plays as the viewer gazes into the abyss, wondering with Ada where Souleiman could be. Ada does not reveal too much of herself throughout the film, yet the viewer can easily empathize with her heartbreak and haunting loneliness, which is best spoken with few words.
Unlike many films with narratives that revolve around possession, Atlantics concludes with a peaceful resolution. The restlessness that was once there seems to have dissipated, as heartbreak turns to acceptance. The terrifying thing about films like Atlantics is that its beauty and futuristic elements mask how much the film mirrors reality. Atlantics doesn’t simply “touch on” themes of patriarchy and immigration, it embodies them. With Atlantics, Diop constructs an incredibly intimate and tight circle between the viewer and Ada and Soulimean’s romance, weaving political injustices with a personal story of young love and loss.