Atlantics (2019)

Atlantics (Atlantiques) is Mati Diop’s dreamlike feature debut focusing on the women left behind when Senegalese migrant workers take to the seas.

Not Waving

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Atlantics’ debut director Mati Diop (a former actress) is part of Senegalese cinema royalty. Her uncle was the ground-breaking director Djibril Diop Mambety and her father is Wasis Diop, the celebrated musician who composed the scores for many of Mambety’s films.

In fact, whether deliberate or not, Diop’s early scenes in Atlantics are reminiscent of Mambety’s seminal 1973 film Touki Bouki. In both a young couple walk along the Atlantic shore in Dakar.

In Touki Bouki it was possible for both of them to discuss their plan and for the young man openly to take a ship to France. In Atlantics in 2019, he keeps his plan to cross the sea a secret from his girlfriend. This is the change in the intervening 25 years and films.

Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is the young woman that Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore) leaves behind when he and a group of friends set off by pirogue one night. The two have been secret lovers because Ada is betrothed to marry domineering, nouveau rich young man Omar (Babacar Sylla), to the delight of her poorer family.

Ada and her group of female friends are modern young women trying to live their lives in a traditionally structured society. And although she knows nothing about about Souleiman’s disappearance, she is blamed and disgraced by the police, hounded by threatening detective Issa (Amadou Mbow), who is prey to a mysterious sickness, and her furious conventional family. A disastrous wedding goes ahead.

The film takes a turn into the supernatural when the young women left behind are possessed by the souls of the young men who left and demand their unpaid wages. It’s a strangely unexplained female solidarity.

As the title suggests, the ocean dominates Atlantics. Its presence is always there: between scenes the camera dwells on its crashing waves and changing colours. It becomes an ominous character that can bring both hope and grief.

What makes Atlantics so interesting and new is its focus on the young women left behind in Africa once the young male would-be migrants have left after systemic corruption at all levels in their country has made life unendurable.

It’s also very timely to base a story on the migrant crisis that links Africa and Europe and it’s hard not to link this film with Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, also debuting at Cannes in 2019, which shows the troubled fate that awaits migrants years later if they ever finally make it to France.

These are two films, both made by young, black first-time directors that have another gaze and both are must-sees for an understanding of current global political issues.

Atlantics (Atlantiques) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2019, where it won the Grand Prix. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 29 November 2019 in the UK. It is released on Netflix.

Join the discussion