‘Atlantics’ TIFF Review: Mati Diop’s Feature Directorial Debut is Hauntingly Gorgeous

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The mysterious feature directorial debut of Mati Diop, Atlantics garnered the Senegalese-French actress the Grand Prix over at the Cannes Film Festival. In fact, her premiering of the film over at the festival set off an important first: she became the first black woman to direct a film featured in competition at the festival. There are many ways in which one can describe how mysterious Atlantics is unafraid to present itself to be, yet that’s also what makes this film so beautiful too. Every moment of this movie carries something wonderful within its subtleties, and as it slowly transforms into another film beyond your expectations, the results are a sight to behold.

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Atlantics tells a story set in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is having an affair with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), a construction worker who has not been paid for weeks. Dreaming of a better life, Souleiman decides to leave his home in order to try and find better opportunities for himself and Ada, who is set to be married to another man. Yet following Souleiman’s disappearance from Ada’s life, she still remains haunted by the memory of his presence in her life, longing for a return – though she also is unaware that he has already returned, more different than ever. There’s a part of me that also wonders how much would Mati Diop have taken from the directorial style of Claire Denis following their collaboration on 35 Shots of Rum, but looking back at how Diop stages every scene with such detail only leaves me all the more in awe at her own craft.

There’s a whole lot to admire about the scope that Mati Diop is aiming for with Atlantics, but as she shows her native Senegal through a familiar lens that soon leads us into something more beautiful. What started off as a film all about searching for a better life turns into something of a supernatural romance, with traces of horror laced in. Yet Mati Diop’s greatest strength comes forth from how she blends both elements in order to tell a story about the state in which working conditions leave its people within, creating something that seems so otherworldly without ever really exiting the ordinary.

What else makes this movie every bit as haunting as it is can also be felt from the score. Though it may not pervade the sequences, it still leaves behind a haunting resonance atop the nature of Diop’s story. Taking a clear influence from her work with Claire Denis, but also the Senegalese auteur Djibril Diop Mambéty, Mati Diop sets herself up as an extraordinary talent – from the shot compositions to the thoughtfulness of her own attention to detail, there’s never a moment in Atlantics that didn’t already strike me for its beautiful craft. Yet knowing what more she’s already able to bring out in her own talents as a storyteller have me wondering what she’s got in store for her next directorial effort.

I’m still in awe at what Diop has managed to craft in here, because Atlantics is an experiment that feels so risky for a first-time writer-director of a feature film. Mati Diop creates a thoughtful work balancing out the social realism with the supernatural, resulting in a more haunting final product. Even a simple story, which proves itself to be the film’s biggest downfall amidst its pacing, still shows itself as a wholly gorgeous and beautiful work. Atlantics may be Mati Diop playing around in order to get a taste of what her greatest strengths are behind the camera, but if there’s anything else worth noting it would be that we’ll only have a whole lot more to look out for with her future feature films.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Netflix.


Directed by Mati Diop
Screenplay by Mati Diop, Olivier Demangel
Produced by Judith Lou Lévy, Eve Robin
Starring Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré
Release Date: November 29, 2019
Running Time: 104 minutes

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