Atlantique is co-written and directed by Mati Diop, a French-Senegalese filmmaker who this week made history as the first black woman to win the Grand Prix at Cannes, one of its two most prestigious prizes. The film stars Mame Bineta Sane as Ada, a woman whose lover leaves Dakar on a boat in search of a better life in Spain after working construction for months without pay; early reviews have been roundly positive, even breathless, with the BBC’s Nicholas Barber calling it “dreamy yet sensual, fantastical yet rooted in uncomfortable facts, Diop’s beguiling film may even have reinvented a genre.”
It doesn’t have an official trailer, and after watching the first two excerpts from the film, it seems like one might do it a disservice—it seems better served by its dreamy impressionism, which alludes to the political realities and fantastical elements critics refer to in early reviews (we probably won’t need to wait too long to see it—Netflix immediately scooped up the world rights).
Diop based her film on Atlantiques, her 2009 documentary about Senegalese workers migrating to Spain via boat, a notoriously life-imperiling journey. As for her award, she rightly found her designation as a “first” a bit dubious. Via the Independent:
“My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019.
“I knew it as I obviously don’t know any black women who came here before. I knew it, but it’s always a reminder that so much work needs to be done still.”
Cannes’ top award, the Palme D’Or, went to Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, the first Korean director to win. The film festival is notoriously conservative—never mind 2017’s Netflix ban; let’s remember that just four years ago, women were still mandated to wear heels on its red carpet, at risk of exclusion—but at the very least, its main jury (including Senegalese filmmaker Maimouna N’Diaye, American director Kelly Reichardt, and actor Elle Fanning) this year seemed to be a bit more open to the world we live in, and want to.