Social commentary is combined with a sense of the supernatural in Mati Diop’s acclaimed debut feature Atlantics (ICA) which is a perfect riposte to lazy depictions of life on the African continent.
Ada and Souleiman are in love. But Souleiman is tired of labouring without pay on the gleaming towers of Dakar. He sets out across the sea with friends to seek a better life in Spain, leaving Ada to face impending marriage to a wealthier man she doesn’t love. Her heart, however, remains with Souleiman, wherever he might be, as strange and unexplained incidents begin to occur throughout the town.
On the surface this is a familiar story of lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control, but the movie quickly reveals itself to be much deeper than that as it takes the form of a hypnotic Sengalese ghost story, in which everyone is haunted by the desire to escape. Employing mystical symbolism and an evocative synth score by Fatima Al Qadiri makes lyrical use of the figure of the djinn to process a harrowing reality. Diop here tackles serious issues such as the limited choice for a woman of modest means within the framework of a touching drama with intriguing sways into genre territory. Cinematographer Claire Mathon bathes scenes in heavy shadows and neon-lit hues that intensify the movie’s gripping atmosphere, as Ada comes to terms with her missing partner and develops a new kind of empowerment with the women around her.
Mame Bineta Sane gives a bewitching performance as the spirited Ada, making the teenager a deeply relatable and conflicted character and easy to identify with, while Ibrahima Traore makes a convincing Souleiman.
Diop was the first black female director to be nominated for a Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and walked away with the Grand Prix. Indeed as a first feature this genre-shifting portrait of a girl’s awakening is truly stunning!
This genre-shifting portrait of a girl's awakening won a worthy Palme d'Or nomination at Cannes. Stunning!