Atlantics review – poetic Dakar love story

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A prosaic script lets down Mati Diop’s visually arresting, ghostly first feature

Although set in suburban Dakar, this beguiling debut feature from Mati Diop is a film that walks between worlds. The story is woven in the hinterland amid wealth and poverty, love and expediency, this life and the supernatural. It’s silkily enigmatic and unpredictable, and certainly unlike anything else you will see this year.

It took me a second viewing to engage with the tonal shifts of the story of Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), promised in marriage to a wealthy man, but who loves Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore), a construction worker who disappears at sea in search of a better life. Diop has a keen eye for a poetic image: the film opens with a shot of bustling streets dwarfed by the monstrous, looming haunch of a half-built tower. Later, there’s an achingly pensive shot of the sleeping quarters of the men who have left, their beds still rumpled from warm bodies; bottles of Victory aftershave primed for a night out that will never come. But the lyricism of the photography by Claire Mathon is not matched by the screenplay, which Diop co-wrote with Olivier Demangel and which seems rather flat and declamatory next to the eerie magic of the film’s gauzy light.

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