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Atlantics: Waiting for Catharsis

Atlantics is a Senegalese romantic tragedy that chokes you up with its supernatural love story and satisfies you with haunting revenge sought out by exploited workers.

Steeped in rich browns and greens, it’s shot with a gothic, romantic and dazed colour palate, majority handheld and generously paced with a sense of patience so that the audience becomes intimate with its yearning. The visuals take a turn into high contrast when tragedy is revealed, and are highlighted by phantasmal neon lights and reflections. The ghastly white eyes of those possessed embody this latter, stark colour palate entirely, and the film continues to combine the two tones to create one that is both tragic and gothic. Ultimately, the romantic catharsis takes place in a bar at night, where the rich tones of the night are met with neon rave lights slowly dancing around the room: a beautiful use of lighting and cinematography that brings the two visual themes of the film together at its climax.

The film's romantic foundations are established in only one scene and paint a simple young love that fills your stomach with butterflies. Since Senegal is a religious (more specifically, an Islamic) country, Ada and Souleiman's relationship is one best kept secret and their innocent love affair is made that much more yearned after when an unwanted arranged marriage with a rich man looms. Diop's portrayal of family responsibilities versus inseparable young love is moving. Where fair pay for a group of exploited men is demanded beyond the grave with arson, and the policemen responsible for protecting these systems ironically end up being the cause of it, young women's spaces and bodies become the havens and vessels in which justice is served and love is reunited. Their plight is made easier to watch as women support each other and play a key part in bringing down the antagonist. Even seeing the conflict being had between young women who care about each other but begin to drift apart because they hold different beliefs was so satisfying to watch, adding a tangible sense of girls' teenhood.

What’s particularly interesting is how Diop managed to include paranormal possession, blackmail, virginity testing, and more, yet still make a film that feels gentle. It’s undoubtedly a drama/romance, but so many aspects of the film could’ve made it a thriller, horror, or even a political drama had the director not chosen to beat our ass with a tragic love plot. The tragedy happens early on in the film, the romantic catharsis merely holds you hostage until the end of it.


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