Atlantics (Senegalese, Netflix)
Starring Mame Bineta Sane as Ada, Amadou Mbow as Issa, Ibrahima
Directed by Mati Diop
Rating: ** ½ (two and a half stars)
The whole Western civilization of cinephiles has gone ga-ga over this low-budget Senegalese film. The director Mati Diop was hailed at the Cannes festival as the first black woman director to have her film competing for the Palm D’Or.
All this makes for an impressive recommendation for a film from a country so out of the cinematic map that even the slightest hint of a meritorious output makes the critics go weak in the knees.
If the truth be told, Atlantics is a rough, raw-at-the-edges and unconvincing love story about a young woman Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) whose lover Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) leaves by sea for better prospects and never returns. Like Ashwini Bhave in Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog, Ada waits for Souleiman while she is engaged to marry into an affluent family. The fiancé, of course, is unworthy of her.
But of course while the economic dynamics of the town of Dakar are depressingly authentic, the love story seems extremely feigned. In a romance so intense and true why would the man sail off without informing his beloved? What follows is even more unconvincing with the ghost of the now-dead Souleiman inhabiting a young detective Issa (Amadou Mbow) who sweats and rolls his eyes and acts possessed in this depressing drama of dispossession.
Later all the girls waiting for their lovers to returns, begin to behave like possessed spirits, demanding their absent lovers’ wages from an unscrupulous builder. All this makes for a laughably untrue portrait of true love.
While the squalor and the despondency of acute poverty in the Senagalese town come through in the scenes shot in crowded dusty streets and cramped houses with mattresses serving as beds, the romance at the heart of the plot is cold and bereft of passion. Though I liked the idea of women waiting at a dance club for the men (who are at sea) to return the longing and the waiting for love are seldom captured in the plot in shades of believability, let alone emotional honesty.
Atlantics uses real locations and locals characters to give us a feeling of being culturally informed. But at heart, it is a con job.