The opening sequences of Atlantics are filled with dust and documentary detail. A tower that looks like it has been dropped onto Dakar from outer space looms on the horizon as construction workers toil for delayed wages.

Some of the workers, including Souleiman (Ibrahima Trarore), decide to ferry themselves across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. Souleiman’s lover Ada (Mama Bineta Sane), who is engaged to be married to a social climber, is doubly distraught. Ada reluctantly agrees to get married, but the nuptials are interrupted by a mystifying incident.

A policeman assigned to the case is unable to come up with a rational explanation. A strange illness grips Ada and her friends, one whose roots lie in the ocean that invites countless Africans to undertake perilous journeys for Europe.

French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop’s Wolof-French debut feature is available on Netflix. The niece of celebrated director Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, Hyenas), Mati Diop brings to Atlantics Mambety’s rooted storytelling and non-linear narrative style.

Diop boldly takes Atlantics into uncharted waters, transforming a realist drama about pressing realities into a haunting allegory about unkept promises. The wondrous compositions and lighting schema by Claire Mathon (who has also shot Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Petite Maman and Spencer) vivify a film that invites us to see poverty, migration and the refugee crisis with fresh eyes. The only bum note is provided by the police detective, whose hyperbolic reactions are out of place in a subtle and allusive narrative.

Atlantics (2022).