Atlantique: come (away) to the water

In her film Atlantique, Mati Diop – Djibril Diop Mamb├ęty’s niece – takes the opportunity to show viewers the other side of the coin in regards to the travels of young men who leave their homeland looking for a better life. However, they often perish in the waters of the ocean. As NYT author A.O. Scott points out, the film is a bit mysterious about its genre at least until its first half. Later on it reveals to be a mix of genres, reflecting the mix of realities that coexist together in the movie, making room to families who observe religious rituals, to those who like to live an expensive and “Western-like” lifestyle, and to those who fall a bit in between, looking for their identity through rebellious behavior.

Atlantique shares a few similarities with the film Touki Bouki, directed by Diop’s uncle, in particular dream-like states throughout the film, and a meticulous attention to water and the Atlantic Ocean. Though, I found one important difference among the two films: the portrayal of the lead female character. The are both strong women at the end of the films, but in Atlantique, Ada has to go through a journey to get there.

Similarities: dreaming and water

As it is also shown in Image 1 and 2, water seems to be a recurrent theme in both Diop and Mambety’s films. In Touki Bouki, Mory and Anta make love on top of the cliff just above the ocean, while in Atlantique Souleman and Ada share a (at times timid, at times passionate) kiss right next to the Atlantic Ocean. They both share intimate moments. However, Ada and Souleman are interrupted by a stranger, possibly foreshadowing an interruption of their physical relationship. Furthermore, water in Touki Bouki is perceived more as something that frees, while in Atlantique the ocean (and the sounds that came with it) make it perceive far more dangerous.

The dream-like states throughout the films primarily concern a couple of scenes. In Touki Bouki, Anta and Mory imagine how well they will be received now that they have money. That scene comes almost at the end of the movie, making viewers believe in a positive resolution for the two lovers. In Atlantique, Ada is subject to a dream-like state as she lays in bed, devastated from learning of Souleman departure. That sequence occurs towards the beginning of the film, while the viewers are still trying to understand what the story-line will be about.

Differences: coming-of-age and subversive role of a woman

In the previous post, I talked about how Anta defies some of the stereotypes involving women in Touki Bouki. That I feel is the main difference with the film Atlantique. Indeed, Ada turns out to be a strong woman (and we start noticing it from the second half of the film), but she doesn’t start that way. At the very beginning, viewers might judge her as a submissive young girl who has to give up true love for someone that her parents arranged a marriage with.

However, as the souls of the men who died at sea come back, she also starts questioning the role she plays in her own life. A bit like a coming-of-age film. The pregnancy test she is forced to take represents for her a turning point for her growth. Ironically, confirming that she is a virgin is what turns her into an adult woman for the rest of the film.

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