Mati Diop uses her first short, a documentary of the same name, as thematic inspiration for her first full length feature. Diop opts to write a fictional story that sits parallel to the first, which followed four young men attempting to cross the ocean to Spain. This is the case here in Diop’s genre-splicing, dreamy tale that is enhanced by the melodic soundtrack and is much more than a commentary on refugees, revolving around a complicated romantic story.

The film begins with workers being robbed of their pay as they help build a wealthy man’s architectural idea of a modern looking tower. This near-futuristic mammoth stands over the dusty, worn looking area of Dakar, Senegal. The clever screenplay connects these opening scenes with later events that clearly show the emotions that the lower class workers feel towards the over-privileged rich. 

First time non-professional actor Mame Bineta Sane depicts the central character Ada without fault as her character experiences a cacophony of emotions. Most of the cast is made up of fellow non-professionals, all convincing in their roles. This is Ada’s story however: we watch her begin the film happy and in love with one of the workers, Souleiman, but also wary of the future as her arranged marriage is to take place in ten days, and it is not to Souleiman.

Rather, it is to the wealthy Omar, a man who is not a part of her world and subsequently, a stranger to her. In one of many allegorical details, the differences between Omar’s modern clothing and Ada’s older clothing is a sign of these different worlds they are a part of and the contrasting classes of society that they inhabit.

Her traditional Muslim family and her similar friends are excited for her as the traditionally planned marriage draws near. However, it is obviously unwanted, an important part of the film. Her other group of friends, those who have adopted more modern elements of society, are fiercely jealous of the lifestyle that she will enjoy after marrying Omar, but this isn’t of interest to Ada. The difference between women that are still a part of the Muslim tradition and those who are leaving it behind is yet another theme woven into the story.

In comparison to the short, Diop cleverly illustrates the opposite side of the coin for most of the film, that being the female perspective after a loved one leaves for the sea. There are no goodbyes, exactly where Ada finds herself after Souleiman departs without a word. As one very young man said in the original documentary, “How can I say goodbye when I am heading off to die?” These men hope to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Spain, and know that their chances of survival are slim.

This timely commentary on multiple issues all take place within a dreamy, unique tale that cherry-picks from other genres while taking unexpected turns on many occasions, unexplained events pushing the story further into a straight political observation of society in Diop’s country of origin. Atlantics shows that Diop is already displaying a style that is her own, one that caught attention at Cannes Film Festival


, and deservedly so.