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Senegalese movie Atlantics tells eerie tale of oppression

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Issue 2684
A rich and powerful film

The fascinating and eerie film Atlantics begins with construction workers in revolt over unpaid wages.

They are building a futuristic tower in Senegal, west Africa. It looms over their poverty, a symbol of a divided world.

Unpaid for several months, building worker Souleiman despairs of ever breaking free from poverty, debt and humiliation. He’s in love with Ada but there is no future in that relationship. Ada is engaged to be married to Omar. He’s wealthy and sleazy, obsessed with his business interests and sees her as another possession to be hoarded.

Both Souleiman and Ada are caged by the reality of their lives.

Souleiman decides the only way out is to join a group that is going to set off for the Canary Islands—1,000 miles away, but part of Spain. The journey by boat has the strong prospect of death at sea.

Mati Diop’s directorial debut concentrates on the women left behind rather than those who have fled seeking a better life.


Souleiman disappears, but then his spectral presence seems to reappear in places Ada doesn’t expect.

He’s in the new iPhone, bought for her by the man she’s supposed to marry. And the marriage bed in Omar’s house catches fire the night of his wedding to Ada.

It seems that the drowned have returned. In one great scene, women possessed by the dead force the boss who didn’t pay the wages to dig graves for those lost at sea.

If this seems weird, don’t let it stop you watching a rich and powerful film.

Diop explains, “In 2012, several months after the Arab Spring, riots shook Dakar, a citizens’ uprising took place in Senegal.

“This citizen awakening marked me because symbolically it reminded us that Senegalese youth had not entirely disappeared.

“There were not the dead at sea on the one hand and young people marching on the other.

“The living were carrying the dead within them, who had taken something of us with them when they went.

“I felt that a very ghostly atmosphere reigned in Dakar and it became impossible for me to contemplate the ocean without thinking of all these young people who had drowned.”

Out now on Netflix

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