atlantics | mati diop | olivier demangel | mame bineta sane | amadou mbow | traore | drama | france | senegal | belgium | ghost | ghosts | haunted | possessed | possession | nicole sougou | aminata kane | coumba dieng | ibrahima mbaye | diankou sembene | abdou balde
Film: Atlantics (Atlantique)
Director: Mati Diop
Writer: Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel
Starring: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow and Traore
This was a film that I heard about originally on the Shockwaves podcast. It made their year end list for 2019 and it intrigued me as there was a debate if this was horror or not. I saw that the Gateway Film Center was showing this once on Saturday and I elected to give it a go. The synopsis is in a popular suburb of Dakar, workers on the construction site of a futuristic tower have gone without pay for months. They decide to leave the country by ocean for a better future. Among them is Souleiman (Traore) the lover of Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) who is promised to someone else.
We start this on the construction site where the men are quite upset. They haven’t been paid in three months and they were told that today they could finally collect all of their pay. The office workers are trying to placate them, but the man in charge is telling them that the money was not left for them. This is interesting though as the workers are taking this out on the office people, who are just middle management and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not being paid either.
One of these men is Souleiman. They end up having to give up, knowing the money isn’t there. He returns to the city where he lives and he’s been seeing Ada. This upsets some of her friends who are religious, especially because she is supposed to be marrying Omar who is quite wealthy. She goes off with Souleiman and they’re kissing. He wants to take this farther, but they’re interrupted. She tells him pretty much to be patient and that they see each other that night.
Ada sneaks out of her room and goes to a local bar run by Dior (Nicole Sougou). Souliman is supposed to meet her there, but it is only women and she learns that all of the men that work together on the construction site got on a boat to sail to Spain. They all stay the night there hoping they’ll change their minds to come back.
This sends Ada into a depression. She won’t really eat or communicate with anyone. This also upsets her father and mother, who take her phone away. The wedding to Omar (Babacar Sylla) seems to go on just fine except that the newly married couple’s bed is set on fire the same night. Ada is then investigated by Issa (Amadou Mbow) as he thinks that Souleiman did it. No one has seen him though and strange things start to happen to the girlfriends of all of the men who went on the boat. It is a sad, depressing tale with the pull of things to needing to be made right.
I’m not going to lie to you, from this recap I bet if you haven’t seen this movie, you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound like horror. I actually went back and froth while watching this if I was even going to do a review as it didn’t seem like it. The point that I left off in my recap is where the supernatural things start to happen, as this becomes a ghost story as well as having possession. If there would have been just one scene, I might have not even written this still. There are quite a few in the second half of the movie which made this adjunct and writing this.
Since I do horror reviews, I’ll delve into that first. I guess this is a slight spoiler, but it is also the crux of the movie. The men don’t make it and they perish at sea. They start to possess their girlfriends to make things right by visiting the wealthy man that cheated them and to make things right. For whatever reason though, Ada is not possessed by Souleiman. He possesses someone else and is contacting her. This isn’t fully explained, but it does seem that the possessed people do not remember what happens the next day and I think Souleiman doesn’t take over Ada’s body as there’s things he needs to tell her.
What really makes this movie great for me though is the social commentary we are getting here. We get the rich vs. the working class. These men are doing great work and the guy who hired them is taking advantage. Being that I’m American and live in a capitalist society, I see the good and the bad here. Heck, I’ve personally had to fight for myself at jobs as I’m given extra work that I’m not being compensated for. I’ve never had to deal with what they are on this level, but I felt for them. That would be a scary situation to deal with, busting your back and not getting the compensation.
We also get a bit of the traditional against the new world. Ada is promised off to marry Omar from her parents, Arame Fall Faye and Babacar Samba. They’re of the Muslim faith and Omar is wealthy. She has friends though that her religious friends call ‘whores’, because they’re going out drinking, dancing with boys and doing things that in my culture would be considered normal. They’re not being told what to do and living their life. Ada has a taste of this, but she also knows she is goes into it head on, her family will abandon her. I couldn’t imagine this, but I do like seeing it play out as it gives me a glimpse into a world that isn’t my own.
That’s all I really have to say about the story and its social commentary, so I’ll take this to the pacing. I didn’t have any issues there. This does run 106 minutes. Do I think they could have trimmed 10 minutes? Probably, but I don’t think that was needed. There were things that I was questioning at first, but as you figure out what is going on, it does make sense and I feel that it is needed. I’m not going to lie, when the ghost stuff starts to happen, it really did make me feel uneasy and it is quite creepy for sure. I also like how this ended, even though it did take me a minute to figure it out completely. A lot of that goes to this being foreign language. I struggled piecing together who was who for a bit.
I will say that the acting in this movie was quite strong. I thought that Sane was good as Ada. She is torn between her duty and living life how she wants. It gave me shades of myself when I was younger where instead of making a decision, I just kind of went along with what was happening around me until I found myself unhappy. Seeing the change in her as she takes charge was empowering for sure. Mbow is interesting in his investigation, especially where it ends up. Traore is intriguing to me, because technically he’s barely in this. We do get his embodiment though, so I give credit to the other actor there. The rest of the cast rounded this movie out for what was needed with a shout out to the ladies that pretend to be their male counterparts while possessed as well.
There’s not a lot in the way of effects, which I’m assuming was this isn’t a film that necessarily needed them as well as they didn’t have the largest budget. I did think that the look of the possessed was creepy. They’re given white eyes that make them seem almost blind. I did really dig that aspect of this for sure. The cinematography was really good. I knew that this wasn’t in Europe and it wasn’t until writing this that I discovered this is from Senegal, but they really gave you an idea of what life is like here through how this was shot.
With that said, I really did enjoy this film. Would I call this a horror movie? Probably not, but I do think that it gets creepy enough in the second half to warrant the review here and I would put this as an adjunct film. The story is something that is quite socially relevant now, even though it takes place in a foreign country the topics can be paralleled to what is going on elsewhere. The possession and ghost aspects were quite creepy. I like the effects used to show that. The acting was strong. I do think that the running time works with how it is paced. Soundtrack of the movie didn’t really stand out to me, but what was used fit for what was needed for sure. I would say this is good movie overall and would recommend giving this a viewing if what you read here sounds like something that interests you. This is a subtitled movie, so if that’s an issue keep it in mind as well.
My Rating: 8 out of 10