Atlantics is the debut feature from Senegalese director Mati Diop, a dazzling first foray into narrative features that follows a young woman on the Atlantic coast whose life turns upside down when a group of boys from her community disappear at sea. What unravels is a tale that is equal parts ravishing in detail and poignant in social commentary.

Set in a suburb of Dakar, located on the Atlantic coast, the film makes ultimate use of the backdrop as shots of hauntingly desolate streets and the ravaging seas play against the turbulent life of our young heroine, Adi (Mame Bineta Sane). Diop’s meticulous direction is evidenced in the subdued yet devastating performance by Sane as well as the rest of the ensemble cast – many of whom are first-time actors. 

The overarching exploration of capitalism and the exploitation of young Senegalese workers at the hands of the local construction industry is impressively nuanced; at times the depiction of hardship is brutally honest and yet so visceral and raw that Diop ensures we as the audience bathe in the lives of these characters.

But make no mistake, this is no vanity project aimed at simply highlighting injustice; more than anything Atlantics is an epic love story, one that can easily rival the greatest Hollywood love stories of this year. This may simply be a testament to the talent onscreen and off that there is such smooth transitioning from harsh reality to a fantastical romance on the dreamy African coast.

It’s no wonder Netflix snatched the rights for this independent gem straight from the Cannes film festival (where the film won the prestigious Grand Prix prize, a history-making win for Diop as she became the first black woman to be given this honour) and is now preparing for a full-fledged awards run where the film will no doubt be in contention for Best international feature film at the Oscars. More than anything the streamers willingness to take this project under their wings signals the uniqueness of this film and the potential for it to be embraced on a mainstream scale.

Atlantics carries the viewer along through the first half gently as the arc of the characters develop and the drama envelops the lives of those in the movie, however, the second half injects a brazen change in tone and genre that is wildly imaginative. Elements of noir-thriller and horror combine in a crescendo that becomes lyrical and mesmerising, a risky move that may have indeed failed in the hands of any other director.

Atlantics is a trailblazing film both for the acclaim it has received so far, and the unbelievably fresh way it infuses social commentary with various genre tropes. Atlantics is equally dramatic and chilling but ultimately this is a love story that burns with unrestrained passion beneath the cold surface of the harsh waves of the Atlantic.

5 stars

Image: Movie DB

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