TIFF review: Atlantics

Mati Diop's intimate Cannes-winning feature about separated lovers offers a gentle and empathetic view of the migrant crisis

ATLANTICS CWC D: Mati Diop. France/Senegal/Belgium. 105 min. Sep 14, 1 pm, TIFF 2. Rating: NNNN

Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) are the two young lovers at the heart of Diop’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning first feature. However, Ada is betrothed to a wealthy businessman, Omar (Babacar Sylla). Right before the wedding, Souleiman and his fellow construction workers decide to leave Dakar and head to Spain on a tiny pirogue. They’re searching for livelihood anyway they can – they haven’t been paid for three months and can no longer support their families if they stay. 

Through intimate camerawork, Diop creates a gentle and empathetic view of the migrant crisis and frames Dakar, with its problems and its glory, in ways that evoke her personal connection to the city and its youth.

The film’s tension lies in Ada having to decide whether or not to leave the cushy comforts Omar provides and pursue true love, even though she may never see Souleiman again. Sané’s performance as the coy, headstrong and vulnerable lead gives the film its pulse. As the women are left behind to grapple with the aftermath of the departure, things turn increasingly uncanny. Unexplained arson and illnesses shift Atlantics into supernatural territory, and Diop incorporates elements of Muslim mysticism without coming off as gimmicky.

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