Mati Diop’s ‘Atlantics’ is one of the most romantic movies of 2019. In its heart is a tale of forbidden love. Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is seventeen years old, and she has already been promised to Omar for marriage. Omar is from a wealthy family so Ada’s own parents have been pushing for this. But Ada is miserable, for she is hopelessly in love with someone else, Soulemane (Ibrahima Traore) On surface you would think this is just a variation of the Romeo and Juliet formula type of love story. And even if this film were just that, I would have already been happy with it, for that story is told in a poetic way that it has already gotten to me. But no, Diop has other ideas, as the film transforms into another film quickly, a ghost story of sorts, a narrative on migrant workers seeking revenge. A group of young men has been working on a building and have not been paid, so in frustration, sets off to sea en route to Spain. Something goes wrong and they get stuck int he ocean. To say more would be to spoil the film. I have never been a fan of scares, but the ghost here aren’t necessarily that – they represent a more oppressed kind, even as they try to reclaim the loves that they left behind. I thought this story and film was fascinating, and I bought into it from the first minute. There’s a certain innocence in the love that Ada and Soulemane share, and if, like me, you are a hopeless romantic, you would be rooting for the two star-crossed lovers instantly. The film has a lot of layers, and I probably need to see it again to see subtleties I may have missed the first time. This film won the Silver Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s the first ever entry in history that is directed by a black woman.
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