Netflix UK film review: Atlantics (Atlantique)
Ivan Radford | On 15, Oct 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Cast: Mama Sané, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré
Watch Atlantics online in the UK: Netflix UK
“You keep watching the ocean,” someone says to Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) early on in Atlantics, Netflix’s strikingly enigmatic mystery. Its rhythm runs underneath the entire story, from the title, which refers to the people who live on the edge of the watery expanse, to the push-and-pull that sweeps things away and brings them back – a cycle that’s as haunting as it is movingly tangible.
The first person we meet on the Senegalese shores is Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), a construction worker on a new skyscraper on the edge of Dakar. He’s in love with Ada (Mama Sané), who is betrothed to another: the wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla). Ada, though, doesn’t want to marry him and reciprocates Souleiman’s affections. The gulf between the promised riches and what she actually wants is echoed by Souleiman’s own financial woes: he and the other workers haven’t been paid by the corrupt Mr. N’Diaye (Diankou Sembene) in three months.
Desperate and determined to make things right, the men take to the sea to find new prosperity in Spain. That journey was the subject of Mati Diop’s 2009 short of the same title. Her feature directorial debut, though, stays on the mainland to chart the women left behind – both groups of people caught in a limbo between dreams and solid ground.
What begins as a low-key romance grows into something darker, as Ada’s engagement party is interrupted by a bout of arson. Increasingly strange things start to happen, prompting young police detective Issa (Amadou Mbow) to investigate. The result is a delicately woven tale that’s part melancholic drama, part ghost story. The balance between the two is a tricky one to pull off, but Diop expertly finds the nocturnal middle ground, which roots the supernatural goings-on in a documentary-like naturalism – the script, co-written with Oliver Demangel, contains enough subtle social commentary to form a convincing backdrop for events.
The cast are key to maintaining the atmosphere and Diop encourages engaging performances from Traoré and Sané. Their compelling chemistry makes up for any shortcomings involving Issa, whose role feels driven by plot more than character. The result is an absorbing debut from a promising filmmaker, one that finds a hypnotic current in its flow from injustice to revenge, from loss to reunion and from past to future.
Atlantics is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.