You may recognise this week’s film from my Horror Noire post last month. Jill picked it and I for one am delighted. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I read the synopsis and now it’s here… well, read on and I’ll let you know exactly what I think.
I can tell you that Atlantics (original French title: Atlantique) was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Though it didn’t win, it did go home with the Grand Prix. It was also selected as the Senegalese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, and made the December shortlist.
Oh yes, and former United States President Barack Obama named it among his favorite films and television series of 2019. Because of course he did.
(All this according to Wikipedia).
In a popular suburb of Dakar, workers on the construction site of a futuristic tower, without pay for months, decide to leave the country by the ocean for a better future. Among them is Souleiman, the lover of Ada, promised to another.
Ada (Sane) is engaged to be married to wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla) but she’s in love with Souleiman (Traore), a construction worker who is currently in a dispute with his employer, who has failed to pay his staff for four months. His workers, including Souleiman, down tools on the futuristic tower they’ve been building and unbeknownst to Ada, her lover boards a boat to Spain in search of new work.
In the lead up to her arranged marriage to Omar, Ada is worried out of her mind as Souleiman never said goodbye or told her he was going. She fears he won’t make the crossing from Dakar to Spain. The wedding goes off without a hitch and Ada finds herself with a new husband who likes to give her expensive gifts. Her friends, including Fanta (Aminata Kane) and Dior (Nicole Sougou) are impressed by the lavish home she’ll be living in, especially the grand double bedroom. Ada isn’t so sure and the women have a discussion about her choices – she could run away and live an uncertain life, or enjoy the spoils of her new lifestyle (and the fact businessman Omar will only be home three months of the year). Personally, I know which I’d choose (three months you say)?
The wedding night ends in drama though when the marital bed catches fire and one of Ada’s friends alleges that she’s seen Souleiman. There’s no sign of him though and in the ensuing days, Ada finds herself in hot water as her suspicious family and husband put her through a series of interrogations and force her to have a virginity test (which is bullshit, ‘cos I lost mine to my bicycle when I was 8). A young detective is put on the arson case and is hellbent on catching Souleiman, who everyone’s convinced started the wedding bed fire. Meanwhile, some of the inhabitants of Dakar, and some of Ada’s girlfriends, start to fall foul of a mysterious illness…
What the fudge? When a large number of women turn up at the tower developer’s office to demand their money, it becomes clear that they have been possessed by the spirits of the men – including Souleiman – who have all been lost at sea. Ada is still being harassed by the detective, who’s incredibly heavy-handed and still has no idea that her boyfriend is no longer with us. When the possessed return to the developer to claim what he owes them, they promise to burn down the tower if he fails to pay up.
And, I really don’t want to ruin the ending of this so I’ll leave the rest to you, if you fancy it. The film is currently on Netflix and is well worth a look.
Atlantics is a slow burner I have to admit but it’s atmospheric and really eery. There’s a folklore flavour to it which reminded me of mermaids for some reason. I like mermaids. It also gives the viewer a lot to lament as it deals with themes such as the refugee crisis (how bloody topical is that right now?), class, grief and remorse.
Ada is treated like a second class citizen by her family and has to jump through hoops to prove she’s still pure AKA. not damaged goods which is utterly archaic – but I like her arc and the notion of closure. In saying goodbye to her love and rejecting the life handed to her on a silver platter, she reclaims herself and it’s really lovely.
I also enjoy the friendship group for a few funny moments and their interest in incredibly relatable things such as selfies and nice handbags. And there’s a very touching moment at the film’s climax which focuses on one of the spirits, in Fanta’s body, explaining to Ada what has happened.
So I think on reflection Atlantics is deserving of the accolades it’s received. It’s moody and short on unnecessary dialogue but it’s one that might haunt me for a little while yet.