Film Review: Atlantique | Atlantics (2019); Cannes Film Festival | Director: Mati Diop


In regard to all pictures and trailer footage. All Rights Reserved to the rightful owners. Film stills and trailer provided by FDN. 2019.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 5/5.

Author: Feargal Agard | Runtime: 104 min. | Director: Mati Diop | Year: 2019.

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Atlantique (2019) is a mysteriously wonderful film that tells the coming of age story of a young woman whose desire it is to follow her heart and choose for the freedom to make her own decisions and her independence. But also the story of how unfair the world can be when it comes to corruption amongst the rich exploiting the ones who do everything to make ends meet.


Atlantique takes place in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal in a beach area that lies along the Atlantic coast. Although the film starts with the character Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) the story largely surrounds the main character Ada (Mame Bineta Sane). Ada and Souleiman are both in love with each other, but their love must remain a secret as Ada’s family has arranged a marriage with her rich husband to be, Omar (Babacar Sylla). Because Souleiman, who works as a construction worker, hasn’t received his salary for several months he decides to join a group of his colleagues to cross the Atlantic ocean to Spain in hopes of getting a better future. Ada is then confronted with the imposed duty to marry Omar, but her life is about to take a different twist when, next to her unhappiness, a mysterious fire takes hold in Omar’s house on her wedding night. This is followed by an inexplicable fever that spreads under her female friends and it is up to the young police officer, Issa (Amadou Mbow) to investigate the mysterious fire. Will he uncover the truth and find out who started the fire? Or will he fail because the truth goes beyond his capacity into the abnormal?

Mati Diop

Atlantique was written by the French-Senegalese Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel and directed by Mati Diop. The film, which is Diop’s feature debut, premiered and won the Grand Prix | Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Fim Festival. Besides that, it was also selected as the Senegalese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd edition of the Academy Awards. Mati Diop’s achievement is truly one to celebrate. Not only because she is talented, which her beautiful short films Big in Vietnam (2012) and Liberian Boy (2015) have already proven, but also because she is the first black female film director to have won such a prestigious prize at the Festival de Cannes. Congratulations! Mati Diop was born in Paris, France and comes from an artistic Senegalese family. Her father, Wasis Diop, is a musician, her mother Christine Brossard is an art buyer and she is even the niece of Djibril Diop Mambéty, who happens to be a prominent filmmaker from Senegal.

The themes and plots of Atlantique

Thematically the film deals with a reoccurring theme of ‘first loves’, ‘coming of age’ and simply letting go. Since the film surrounds a love story with the first guy that she has ever loved. The film displays her in similarity to the ‘archetypical lady’ awaiting the return of her ‘husband’ by the sea. It shows her dealing with reality and getting ready to be married off by her parents and eventually letting go of her true love who possibly might not come back. Because the journey over the Atlantic ocean is by far a difficult one.

We are witness of the class differences in a country where for most women the only hope to achieve financial stability is through marriage with a wealthy husband. We are presented with a glimpse into the lives of people who do not just choose to migrate, but also the reason why they’d risk their lives to migrate to Europe. Which has largely to do with unemployment, low, but also no wages at all, since it is easy for a wealthy and powerful individual to exploit people who are in dire need of money to survive and take care of their families. At the same time, the film’s plot attempts to hold a mirror in front of these rich exploiters to confront them with the effects of their actions and make them pay for it. Which is when the ghostly and mysterious part sets in.

The film also focuses on family struggles and their constructions. Since men are the head of the family and its accepted that he may police a woman’s body, will, needs, wants and freedom. We, for example, witness Ada being checked if she is still a virgin, which has to do with the fact that she can only be wedded off as a virgin. Next to that, we witness how easy it is for a man to blame his wife for the upbringing of their kids under the assumption that it’s the wife’s sole task. All of this shows how, more so, in other parts of the world a woman is still very much treated like a possession.

The most intriguing theme can be found in the underlying part of the film. Through the film’s imagery, we are often presented with that gorgeous view of the Atlantic ocean. Either in the middle of the day, at night or with the rising or ascending of the sun. What does this beautiful image stand for? You might ask yourself. This image reoccurs as a reminder of Ada’s boyfriend who is making the impossible journey over the Atlantic ocean to Spain, but it’s also sort of like a mirror reflecting the mood in the film and the character’s lives. Although, in another way, it could also symbolically represent the immense power that the rich have, which migrants or lower classes have to go up against in order to defy the rich, achieve stability and survive in a world that just like the ocean’s waters is restless.

In the end, the story is a coming of age film of a woman who yearns for self-dependence and the right to choose with whom she wants to be. A young woman who wishes to work and make her own money and not constantly be told what to feel, think and do. She is capable enough to make her own decisions. Especially since she is in love with a guy that for the short time that we have seen them together, treated her with respect. Which is a contrasting comparison to Omar who, although he lives the modern life, keeps to tradition and is focused only on the material aspects of life.

Perfect cinematic dreamy and hazy images

Cinematography wise the film can be seen as a feature film with gorgeous images that give a particular documentary and Cinema Verité feel. Meaning that the images depict an authentic display of the world that the main characters live in. The images can be grainy and diffuse and carry a tone of warmth which is befitting since it takes place in a country that’s hot, close to the desert and the heat must certainly cause a dusty or smoggy air. Most of the images come off dreamy and hazy which creates a visual experience that is a feast for the eyes. Because it creates a tone that isn’t just neat and clean, but that feels alive as if you’re standing in the same environment. The sound and music serve the story in a very moving way. At times it can be creepy, ominous, dreamy, mysterious and perfectly distinct.


Atlantique is an absolute recommendation. Especially if you are interested in African love stories and mystery-themed films, but also to anyone who simply needs to see something else than mainstream (European) arthouse films. If you’re not used to foreign non-European centered art house films. Then please take a step out of your comfort zone and allow this film to draw you in with its enchanting images and story narrative. The creepy parts of the film are nothing to be scared off since they are enjoyable artistic and mystical features of the film.

The film will be released in the Netherlands on the 13th of February 2020.

Genre: Drama, Mystery | Languages: Wolof, French, English, Arabic | Dutch Distributor: Cinéart.

In regard to all pictures and trailer footage. All Rights Reserved to the rightful owners. Film stills and trailer provided by FDN.

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