netflix atlantics nyff review

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‘Atlantics’ tells a ghost story steeped with emotion and realism

Mati Diop’s feature debut does not disappoint.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Atlantics is a beautifully haunting love story, blending realism with hints of the supernatural. It takes its time to lift up the curtain, but when it does, it reveals something much more intricate and mesmerizing.


Three and a half stars


RELEASE DATE: 11/15/2019 (theatrical); 11/29/2019 (streaming)



A young construction worker in Senegal heads to Spain after not being paid for several months of work. But when Ada, the woman he left behind, has to marry a man she’s been promised to but doesn’t love, a series of mysterious events start to affect the people in Dakar.

In Mati Diop’s feature debut, the ocean is ever-present. It shows a passage of time, the waves acting as s comfort for Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), two young lovers who escape to the beach for a moment of reprieve from lives that don’t often offer it. When Ada and Souleiman sit by the shoreline staring into the ocean and each other, they can forget—if only for a few moments.

The ocean can also be cruel and unforgiving as the waves crash down in anger. Souleiman and several other young men leave the shores of Dakar for Spain in a boat. The construction workers are frustrated with a boss who hasn’t paid his employees in four months. It seemingly taunts the women left behind who wait for the men they love and care for—refugees looking for a better life—as dire news reaches the shoreline.

It’s a constant in the film, but also a transition of tides and time alike; even if we’re watching the same stretch of the ocean at the same time every day, it will never be exactly the same. And there’s a certain attention to detail that captures all of those hues.

At the beginning of the film, Ada is on the edge of a transition of her own. She’s days from entering an arranged marriage with a wealthy man named Omar (Barbara Sylla), something she wants absolutely no part of. She becomes depressed as her wedding day approaches and no news of Souleiman’s whereabouts emerge, refusing to eat or see any of her friends; she barely reacts when Omar gives her an iPhone as a present. But on her wedding night, a fire mysteriously starts in her wedding bed, and investigators immediately suspect Souleiman.

Atlantics is weaving multiple threads together, and the film starts off feeling tangled. Ada’s is largely internalized as she enters a loveless marriage, and even those who will lend an ear to listen don’t understand her. Her Muslim family pushes her toward the marriage, treating her as little more than an object to hand over to another family. One friend judges her for spending time with Souleiman when she’s about to be married, another one wants Ada to just accept the marriage at the expense of her own happiness because, well, she’d only have to see her husband three months out of the year and at least she’ll be wealthy.

Those friends only see the extravagant mansion where Ada will reside—and the bedroom fit for a monarch—on a surface level. They brush away her unhappiness and unease, and if they’re not oblivious to Ada’s true feelings, they’re largely indifferent to them.

But as Ada is cast as a prime suspect by Issa (Amadou Mbow), the detective tasked with investigating the arson, something much more unexplainable starts to emerge as several people fall ill with similar symptoms. Doctors don’t provide many answers. 

Atlantics is a slow build, one that stacks details you might not have thought important at the moment on top of one another before reaching its moment of clarity. It’s transcendent and hypnotic for both Ada and viewers, and through it all, the ocean remains a witness.

Atlantics will premiere at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 9.

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