Atlantics: everything you need to know about Netflix’s haunting new ghost love story

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After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, this Senegalese film garnered serious Oscar buzz. Now, the movie is set for release on Netflix in November.

Atlantics is a record-breaker, and it hasn’t even been released yet.

The debut film from French-Senegalese actor and director Mati Diop was the first movie made by a woman of African heritage to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. After winning awards and critical acclaim, the movie was scooped up by Netflix for release in November. Now, it is on track to become Senegal’s entrant for the Best Foreign Film category at the 2020 Academy Awards, with some experts even backing it for the win.

At first glance, Atlantics is a beautifully made and haunting love story about Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), two teenagers living in Dakar. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that the movie is actually an eerie and unforgettable fable about ghosts and star-crossed lovers. 

Because Souleiman is an unpaid labourer who, one night, decides to head for Spain in a leaking boat in the hopes of finding a better life. But the boat goes missing, never to be seen again. Ada’s grief for her perished lover are complicated, because Souleiman isn’t the man that Ada is supposed to be with in the first place – she is promised to another, a wealthy businessman selected for her by her parents. 

Mati Diop accepting the Grand Prix at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

When Ada’s wedding is interrupted by a mysterious fire, a policeman (Amadou Mbow) comes to investigate; what he discovers is the vengeful spirit of Souleiman, returned to Earth and seeking out his love.

Here is everything you need to know about Atlantics

Is there a trailer for Atlantics

There is. You can watch the trailer below. 

Is Atlantics a horror movie?

Critics are calling Atlantics a cross between Moonlight and Midsommar, an elegiac love story suffused with the supernatural. There are elements of horror to this movie – it features ghosts and evil spirits, after all. But at its heart it’s the story of two teenagers who want to be together but for whatever reason, be it family or politics or class or religion or ethnicity, cannot. That, of course, is a tale as old as time. Just ask Shakespeare.

But beyond the love story and the fantasy elements, this is also a movie with a strong message at its heart. Souleiman and his fellow unpaid labourers lose their lives because they were forced to make dangerous choices after being cheated out of a fare wage. These themes of corruption and migration, alongside Senegal’s growing women’s empowerment movement, are as much a part of the film as spooky ghosts. 

What are the critics saying about Atlantics

Critics are unanimous: Atlantics is a hit. The film has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes and has received rave reviews from publications including New York magazine and Los Angeles Times

Aminata Kane, Amadou Mbow, Mati Diop, Mame Sane, Nicole Sougou and Mariama Gassama at the premiere of Atlantics at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Los Angeles Times said: “Diop never loses sight of the men who have left home for a better future, or the women they have left behind; hers is the rare picture to address the global migrant crisis with intense storytelling imagination as well as moral outrage.” 

New York magazine noted: “Though Atlantics at times has the vibe of a ghost story, ghosts are the least of Ada’s problems. She’s trapped in a world created by and for the benefit of rich men, where young brides are forced to undergo ‘virginity tests,’ cops brush off a case of large-scale wage theft, and a young woman without a husband will be left all alone. In Diop’s telling, vengeful spirits are far less frightening than the patriarchy.” 

The Hollywood Reporter felt that the film was “exquisitely shot” and “lushly scored”. “Unsurprisingly, given it was made by a Parisian-reared woman with a deep connection to her African heritage, the film bubbles over with doubles and dualities, insiders and outsiders, and literally has ghosts of the dead dwelling inside the living,” they added. 

Variety said: “After several films and documentaries looking at Senegalese men who make the dangerous Atlantic voyage as refugees… it’s refreshing to focus on the women left behind, facing lives of painful emotional, not to mention financial, interruption.”

What is the release date of Atlantics?

Atlantics streams on Netflix from 29 November. 

Images: Netflix, Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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