Atlantique (Atlantics, 2019)

One of the strongest and strangest debut films this year was by French-Senegalese director Mati Diop, the niece of filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. Over the past decade she’s made a number of beguiling short films (a personal favourite is Snow Canon) and her latest has had distribution from Netflix, which means a smattering of cinema screenings and a permanent home online. I would love to rewatch this and think it would reward such an effort greatly, not least due to the wonderful cinematography from Claire Mathon, who also shot another of the year’s most beautiful films (and another of my favourites), Portrait of a Lady on Fire.


This is a beautiful, strange, but poetic film about migration — whether the kind we’re familiar with from the news, or the transmigration of the soul (what the ancient Greeks called μετεμψύχωσις metempsychosis), because both of these feature in the film. Indeed, they are in some sense intertwined in enigmatic ways that the film never explains or simplifies, it’s just present in the text which seems to effortlessly find a mythical quality to its storytelling, helped by the beautiful visuals and the specific performance styles which are elicited from the actors. It’s set in Senegal, as Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), a young middle-class woman, secretly meets with a young construction worker, Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), though her family want her to marry Omar, a wealthy socialite who flatters her with gifts of rose gold iPhones as if they’re nothing. The problem is that Souleiman and his compatriots, being exploited by wealthy bosses over their pay, leaves to seek a better life in Europe, leaving Ada behind to deal with the fallout. The plot is largely incidental to the atmosphere created in this seaside city where the crashing waves along the shore become a constant refrain to the movement of her life, as a young cop starts sniffing around, certain that things aren’t what they seem. It reads as a genre piece, but it plays out as something far more mysterious, sensual, beautiful and intoxicating. Ten years ago director Mati Diop made a short film of the same name which had men sit around a beachside campfire speaking about their hopes from migration, and now finally she has this feature film which is so much more. I can see myself rewatching this, because it tells a specific story of people living their lives in Dakar, but it tells another story too, a stronger and more pressing one, in which those who exploit others to their deaths are still called upon to pay the ferryman.

Atlantics film posterCREDITS
Director Mati Diop; Writers Diop and Olivier Demangel; Cinematographer Claire Mathon; Starring Mame Bineta Sane, Ibrahima Traoré; Length 104 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Victoria, London, Saturday 30 November 2019.

LFF 2019 Day Eight: Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Maternal (both 2019)

My eighth day of the festival should have been filled with more films, but I ended up not going to the third. Perhaps you could say the long hours were getting to me (I did feel my eyelids getting heavy briefly during Portrait), but actually something else came up. However, the two I did see both presented fascinating films about women’s lives, neither of which featured men at all (or almost never), though of course patriarchal control was never too far from the surface.

Continue reading “LFF 2019 Day Eight: Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Maternal (both 2019)”

L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake, 2013)

There are a bunch of observations you could make about this film upon watching its first half-hour, and then there’s a bunch of stuff that comes later on. Most obvious is that the setting of the film, by the lake of the title, is the film’s only location. The dialogue sometimes mentions things that happen elsewhere, but for the most part, these characters’ lives are defined by the time they spend sunning themselves on the rocky shores of this French lake in summer, enjoying one another’s company in the wooded area behind, and pulling into and out of the car park off the main road. The other early observation is that the characters are all gay men and spend most of their time entirely naked, to the point where the film’s signature shot has the camera positioned near the water’s edge, looking up at these men as they lay back and check one another out. But it’s just one of the repeated shots that suggest a languorous mood of possibility — which becomes one of threat as the film progresses.

The film centres on Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) who has not been around in a while, making him perhaps the initial ‘stranger’ to this lake. He strikes up a friendship with the lumpen Henri, sitting off at the edge of the action, while keeping his eye out for someone, being drawn particularly by the enigmatic, moustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou). So very languorous is the atmosphere the film creates that when the central dramatic event does occur — the twilight drowning by Michel of his moody partner — the extreme long shot single take framing of Franck’s witnessing this event is drawn into question by his subsequent lack of action, as he falls further into a complicit sexual relationship with Michel. If it’s a murder mystery, the mystery is not in who committed the murder, as in why Franck does nothing about it (quite why Michel did it is never really addressed). We end up wondering (perhaps like the character) whether it wasn’t all just some kind of dream in the halflight of the twinkling water, and what each of the characters know about the others.

In the end, it’s a film about the ‘unknown’ of the title. All the characters — Franck, Michel, Henri, the police inspector who shows up towards the end — are strangers, to us as much to one another. There’s a dangerous aquatic creature lurking in the lake that characters make passing reference to. Rigorously repeated shots of the limited locations, always shot from the same vantage points, render even the terrain strange and unsettling. Most of all, there’s the characters, their feelings and their actions, opaque right up to an ending in the inky blackness of night, which — as I’ll hope you’ll appreciate is in keeping with this theme — is perfectly apposite. It’s an accomplished mood piece which lingers in the mind.

Stranger by the Lake film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Alain Guiraudie; Cinematographer Claire Mathon; Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at Shortwave Cinema, London, Saturday 1 March 2014.