Mati Diop’s woozy Atlantique – joint winner of the Grand Prix at this years Festival de Cannes – is story of young love, corruption and inequality, set in a suburb on the Atlantic coast of Senegal.
Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) are young and in love, but society and circumstance are destined to keep them apart: Ada is betrothed to the wealthy and influential Omar (Babacar Sylla), while Souleiman’s construction job, building a futuristic tower complex that looms above the single story houses of Dakar, exploits the workforce of young men who instead choose to seek their fortunes in Europe.
When the group of young men disappear at sea and Ada’s wedding ceremony is interrupted by a fire, things in this quiet suburb of town start to change. Girls become ill, hot and feverish, roaming the streets at night while a dedicated detective tries to figure out the truth.
With stunning cinematography by Claire Mathon, Diop weaves a tale of exploitation and the impact of globalisation that is laced with the supernatural, in a town that radiates a sense of unease. The sea, cold, grey and unwelcoming dominates almost every frame of the film. Diop uses eerie transition shots of the vast expanse, the overpowering waves crashing into the rocks along the coastline, even the sound, that takes place of the visual images in scenes set in cramped interiors or twisting streets.
It is in the sea too, that the expanse between rich and power is only reinforced. While Souleiman’s journey into the black waves in fraught with danger, when Omar relaxes in an upmarket hotel the sea is picture perfect in the background, moving with a gentleness that the rest of Dakar never experience. There is also an irony, as Ada swims carefully in the pool that here that exercise is a way to relax, while for those making the trip to Europe, it is their only weapon of survival.
The grief and the helplessness of those left behind is negated as the woman of the town, sick with fever, begin nightly pilgrimages to demand the money that their lovers, brothers and husbands were so easily denied. Together they are a force, a powerful symbol of the resilience that is brought to the fore in times of hardship.
An intriguing coming-of-age tale that is far removed from anything you’ve ever seen before, Atlantiques is harrowing and powerful with a penetrating look at exploitation and globalism – not as a backdrop to a young woman’s life, but as a integral element.