Filmmaker Mati Diop is the first black woman director in history to compete in the Cannes Film Festival with her impressive narrative feature debut, Atlantics, which explores the plight of Senegalese working class people struggling to escape exploitation and improve their difficult lives. The supernatural romantic drama, which Diop co-wrote with Olivier Demangel, won the Cannes Jury Grand Prize earlier this year and is now Senegal’s official entry for the Oscars’ Best International Film.
When frustrated young construction workers laboring on a soon-to-be-completed luxury skyscraper in Dakar are denied long overdue wages, they decide to embark on a treacherous ocean voyage to Spain in search of a better future. One of them, Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore), is in love with 17-year-old Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), who has been betrothed by her family to a wealthy businessman (Omar/Babacar Sylla) for whom she has no feelings. Trapped in an arranged marriage, the heartbroken Ada longs for the man she truly loves whose fate on the high seas is uncertain. Her love for Souleiman transcends any desire she has for the wealth and status that her marriage to Omar offers. She chooses to defy her family’s wishes and rejects him.
Diop’s highly original film is a magical and mysterious tale told from the female-centric perspective of those left behind. It’s filled with ghostly apparitions that capture both the plight of the migrant crisis and the life altering impact of genuine love. Ada’s dreams, nightmares and memories are central to her African identity. They are omens that remind her of who she is, what she can become, and how the future belongs to her. Atlantics features stunning cinematography by award-winning DP Claire Mathon, seductive costume design by Salimata Ndiaye and Rachel Raoult, and a compelling score by composer Fatima Al Qadiri.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Read Mati Diop talks Patriarchy, Ghosts and ATLANTICS – Leslie Combemale interviews