“Some memories are omens”
In an interview with Netflix, director Mati Diop stated that she wanted to dedicate her supernatural romantic drama Atlantics (French: Atlantique, 2019) to the lost youth – to those living in Senegal. By capturing the complex psyches of the young people trying to come to terms with class struggle, the refugee crisis, and the poverty that is to be endured at every turn, Diop wanted to mangle the clichés surrounding Africa. The end result is a film of astounding fragility. It renounces genres and subverts the world we all take for granted – one of preconceived notions and insurmountable tragedies.
The French-Senegalese-Belgian co-production follows Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), a young girl entangled in a love affair with a boy called Souleiman (Traore) – despite her engagement to a rich man, whom she is to marry in a matter of days. As she tries to overcome her own horror at the thought, two other tragedies unfurl. One is the debt the locals are falling into due to their employer’s refusal to pay their wages, the other is the catastrophe that claims the lives of countless young men. As denial and grief follow, strange events begin to take place at night – captured by the unseeing eyes of the living, and the piercing gazes of the dead.
The world of Atlantics is one governed by the elements. There is the sweltering heat, all-consuming as it slips down heavy brows and billowing chests. It grips madness and forces it to clash with the cool blue of the Atlantic Ocean. It howls and hisses when angered, and murmurs during the day, when the oozing sun takes over. All of this in snatched by a rough, handheld camera that aims to lull the audience into a false state of passive absorption. It does so by presenting almost a documentary-style montage of long takes, which capture the raw, extended cuts of life that are often overlooked by carefully polished productions.
And yet, between these moments of humbling juxtaposition, we gain a glimpse into the mystic core of life that eludes the rational mind. It feels as though nature is looking in on the people, who are left stumbling around as life’s supporting actors. Nature toys with them, as we are reminded by the frequents shots of the sun and the ocean. There is a palpable contrast between the irrational powers at play and the human mind, which rejects all that is paranormal in favour of deceptive rationality. After all, even religion is used as a tool of reason to halt the gallop of unruly thoughts and inexplicable behaviour.
The film’s ambience exists in the fractured space between spirituality and finality. It is a fascinating and chilling plunge into the soul-gripping transcendence of the mind, which can be held responsible for the film’s elusiveness. The plot is never overly sentimental, the acting reflects life itself in the way it is neither sensational nor tedious, the paranormal events that unfold are never too strange to appear gaudy. In fact, every element seems like an indistinguishable thread in the overall fabric of the story, pointing to the film’s seamless finish. In the background, the undulating blue space acts as the carrier of change, bringing with it the constant surge and ebb of life and death.
Fatima Al Qadin’s eerie, haunting music complements the romanticism of the ghost story, and serves as an extension of the danger lurking beneath the rippling waves. The rich colour palette used to splatter life onto the edges of the screen shifts as manganimously as the aura of the film, presenting a sensual journey through the expanding chambers of the mind. Finally, against the backdrop of corruption and half-truths, the soul is allowed to wander.