Saturday, January 11, 2020


I've mentioned before that I feel weirdly victorious when I see a movie or TV show produced by a streaming service without being subscribed. It's silly - I absolutely know that I've spent more on certain things than just watching it the expected way - but maybe it sends a bit of a message to both them and the theaters to work together a little more.

Interestingly, this feature doesn't particularly look like an expansion of the director's short film of the same name from ten years ago. That one's a documentary about four young men who try to cross the sea to find better work, something which plays into this film but which also happens off-screen without any sort of flashback when what happened becomes less of a mystery. I'm curious as to whether it was a conscious decision to focus on the people left behind, if that story just didn't fit once the film started developing, or if it seemed strange to put something real into something so fictional.

Anyway, welcome to the blog, "Senegal" tag! I wasn't tagging countries when I saw Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love at SXSW ten or eleven years ago, but this seems less of an outsider view of the country than that.

Atlantique (Atlantics)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 January 2020 in the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] The Best of 2019, DCP)

It's a truism that small films like Atlantics focus on characters and performances more than their larger brethren, but that's almost literally the case in the early going, as every establishing shot of the town is a foggy gray while close-ups of the actors are suddenly bright and sharp. It's a level of focus that the cast earns, making things work even when it sometimes seems like filmmaker Mati Diop could do more with her ghost stories.

It starts at a construction site outside Dakar; Muejiza Tower is slated to be luxurious and full of amenities, but the workers haven't been paid in months, and leader Cheikh (Abdou Balde) is starting to make demands. Dejected, worker Souleiman Fall (Ibrahima Traoré) makes his way home, although his spirit lifts when he sees girlfriend Ada Niang (Mama Sane). They spend the afternoon together, but somewhat furtively, as she is meant to be married to well-to-do Omar Liang (Babacar Sylla) in ten days, and all of her friends from religious Mariama (Ndeye Fama Dia) to fun-loving Fanta (Amina Kane) tell her she shouldn't ruin a good thing - though, surprisingly, practical Dior (Nicole Sougou) isn't quite so sure. It may be moot, though, as Cheikh, Souleiman, and the rest of the guys take a boat to Spain to seek their fortune. The boat disappears, but on the night of Ada's wedding, Mariama claims to see Souleiman before a strange fire destroys the wedding bed, leading to an arson investigation led by Inspector Issa Diop (Amadou Mbow) - and the developer of the tower, Mr. N'Diaye (Diankou Sembene) finds himself with unusual visitors.

Ghosts make great metaphors, but Diop and her co-writer Olivier Demangel know that life is not a perfect series of one-to-one matches, so there's something enjoyably messy about the way they set this ghost story up. There's something oddly traditional about the spirits possessing the bodies of the town's young women to haunt N'Diaye; it can read as both the men atoning for their failure to provide for their wives and daughters (a specific complaint Cheikh makes to the site manager at the start) or them taking matters into their own hands when the men are wiped out. Diop stages these scenes with simple but spooky methods, the white contacts to indicate possession communicating the situation quickly while other things are more subtle: Silent women cutting across streets with purpose or occupying N'Diye's house with the sort of stillness that indicates quivering rage, like they're past human niceties but haven't forgotten their old lives.

Full review on eFilmCritic

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