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CANNES 2019 Competition

Mati Diop • Director of Atlantics

"My films draw inspiration from the absence of boundaries"


- CANNES 2019: French filmmaker Mati Diop talks to us about her first feature film Atlantics, unveiled in competition in Cannes

Mati Diop • Director of Atlantics

A bold and highly unique film, shot in Dakar and showcased in competition at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Atlantics [+see also:
film review
interview: Mati Diop
film profile
is the first full-length film by Mati Diop.

Cineuropa: Atlantics melds together many different themes. What was the initial idea behind it?
Mati Diop:
It started with a short film I made in 2009, which saw a young man telling his two best friends about the journey he’d made by boat from the coast of Senegal to Spain, where he’d been repatriated from, having only just arrived, and where he wanted to return to find work and earn a living. I only wanted to record his tale because, at the time, I found the way the media was handling the topic of illegal immigration reductive and misleading: the human, individual dimension of these people’s stories was utterly ignored. Given that I had the French media’s point of view on the one hand, and that, in Senegal, I was quite close to the situation, as I spent a lot of time with my cousin who was twenty years old and with his friends. Within their group, a lot of them wanted to leave. I talked with them a lot and so I had a place - a space where I could listen - which allowed me to get close to these issues. During these conversations - these personal accounts which I gathered together and recorded - I heard things that really affected me. It was a very busy time: most of the boys I met were so obsessed with the idea of going to Spain, of no longer being in Senegal no matter what, of disappearing from its shores, that it was as if they weren’t there anymore; they were already somewhere else, gone. And as there were so many people going missing at sea, I started to look at the ocean differently. I basically started to see Dakar as a ghost town, and it was as if the ocean itself were sucking up these boys. It’s madness, but it’s part of my madness as a filmmaker. I have a way of interpreting things from a certain angle so as to give back some form of truth.

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Why did you decide to inject a dimension of fantasy into the film?
It’s a combination of the way in which I saw things and the fact that in Africa, or in Senegal in any case, there are no boundaries between what’s visible and what’s invisible, between the real and the unreal. In some respects, my films draw inspiration from the absence of boundaries; between documentary and fiction, the visible and the invisible. I don’t look at things this way either. Maybe I’m influenced by the culture of Senegal, of Africa, but as I’m also a film-lover, I know that there are certain codes which belong to the fantasy genre. I do use it in my film, but it didn’t come from the outside; I didn’t say to myself one day, out of nowhere, “oh look, this genre exists so I’ll go along with its codes and use them to tell a story”. It’s more a case of fantasy being inherent to life in Africa.

Aside for these boys who very strangely disappear and reappear, the film is first and foremost a portrait of a young woman…
It’s looks at the issue of those being lost at sea from the point of view and experience of the women whom they leave behind. But the idea wasn’t to tell the story of women who live passively, waiting for the return of their loved one, at a loss without men. I was very careful about that. I wanted to try to talk about the personal consequences of this loss on this young girl; how it changes her as a person, how it changes her environment, her relationship with the world, her relationship with time, with her emotions. Filming her life, her friends, her entourage; those who think she should marry and those who instead help her to choose her own path. It was really a case of filming the metamorphosis of a young woman affected by the loss of the person she loves. But the disappearance of her love also awakens a side of her that’s lain dormant until now; asleep. It’s also a way of giving meaning to the disappearance of these boys, as if I’d refused to accept that their disappearing at sea signalled the end: it’s a way of keeping them alive through these girls.

What were your initial intentions in terms of the film’s mise en scène?
I tend to associate fantasy films with a very specific, slick aesthetic that’s choreographed and framed down to the last millimetre. But that’s something that doesn’t fit at all with my personality or with the chaotic and very lively side of Africa. Ultimately, the focus was to ensure the story and the overall structure of the film were strong and clear, but to also find some kind of balance with the chaos.

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(Translated from French)

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