Atlantics (2019) and the Romance Genre

by Emily Nagler, Mimi Taylor, Brendan Boustany, Junyoung Choi, and Frank Martin

Something I noticed when watching Atlantics was how often faces, especially those of Ada and Soulemain, were obscured somehow. Sometimes this was because of the way the shot was framed, the lighting, or some other element of the mise-en-scène obscuring them. Here’s the first times we see Ada and Soulemain:

They are either a small element in larger chaos, not in clear view of the camera, not looking at the camera, or some combination of the three. Later, when Soulemain reveals himself to Ada as possessing Issa’s body, although the faces are sometimes in clear view of the camera, the extreme low-key lighting casts them in shadow:

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Then when they are reunited as lovers at the end of the film the low-key lighting and framing obscure their faces, and there is an added scattered lighting effect (from the bar within the story) that obscures their faces:

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This constant obscuring of their faces adds to the general mystery surrounding the relationship. The film starts with the relationship already established, and Soulemain disappears almost immediately. We don’t know how they met or what led them to this point. In fact, we know very little about them other than that they love each other.

This obfuscation is uncommon for Romance movies, which typically use high-key lighting:

And even if they use low-key lighting, they frame the shot (and keep the mise-en-scène minimal) so that the actors’ faces and expressions are clear:

However, in Atlantics, the uniqueness of Ada and Soulemain’s love is a central theme of the story. Ada’s ability to know that she is with Soulemain even though his spirit is occupying Issa’s body shows this. Ada tells Dior that she can “feel it” is Soulemain, and when they are reunited in their last scene together, there is no hesitation. She and Soulemain are reunited in spirit, literally. The obscuring of their faces highlights that their love transcends physicality. They are connected in their spirits. The viewer never gets too attached to Soulemain being associated with one physical likeness, and that physical likeness being connected with Ada. This allows us to more easily accept the idea of their souls’ connectedness and feel that they are truly with each other, even if the actor is different than the one before. – Mimi Taylor

It is interesting in Atlantics how a love story kind of overpowers the supernatural elements of the movie. Romance and true love become a tool that Ada uses to establish her independence, refusing the cushy lifestyle offered by a marriage to someone she doesn’t love. Like Mimi said, emotional ties and souls become the sole connector between the two lovers. The supernatural elements of the movie that bring Souleiman to life act as mere tools. The romantic aspect of the movie is what drives the plot. In the movie, major themes such as independence, the supernatural, and class commentary are all interconnected by the romantic elements. Romance becomes emotionally three-dimensional, introducing to the audience visceral feelings of adoration, and the anger and frustrations that come with an impossible love. – Emily Nagler

Considering the tropes of a traditional romantic film, Atlantics can be understood as a love story (at its core) that unravels to transgress other genres. To begin with, the film presents traditional generic personas. Diop introduces a classic love triangle between Souleiman, Ada, and Omar. Moreover, there is a struggle between the existing societal powers and the intended path of the protagonist. Ada’s feelings for Souleiman clash with her apparent commitments, presenting a quandary for the film to tackle and seemingly continue along. In this way, the film begins similar to other films of the romance genre, albeit in a unique setting. However, as Mimi and Emily note, the film takes a sharp turn away from the literal fracas in favor of a spectral path, where the film begins to take on other genres. Nevertheless, the connection between Souleiman and Ada prevails. The persistence of this narrative, despite the events on screen, emphatically illustrates the power of love, completing the film’s romantic crux. – Brendan Boustany

The entire movie focuses around the love triangle of Ada, Souleiman, and Omar.  The interesting set-up of supernatural elements adds to the dramatic ending as the love between Souleiman and Ada works out.  Even through all the weird events that are happening their love still finds a way, and they find a way to be together.  This style of a romance movie is typical, where the two main characters cannot be together due to some main complication.  Romeo and Juliet or Aladdin or good examples of this style of movie.  In Atlantics, the creators chose the supernatural to explain why their characters could not be together.  When put together like this it makes for a very interesting movie with an intense/suspenseful plot that leaves the possibility of anything imaginable to happen.  In the end, like most love stories, the two main characters find a way through whatever barrier was holding them back.  – Frank Martin

Though the spooky, supernatural elements of the film at times may seem the focal point of Atlantics, it is Souleiman and Ada’s relationship and love that confronts the key obstacles of the plot head on. One of the first scenes of the film introduces us to the love Souleiman and Ada have for each other; around the tenth minute, the two are seen sitting by the sea, chatting romantically and kissing passionately. Though they feel a deep connection to each other, both are haunted by their own imminent futures and say this with their facial expressions; the abundance of light in the first few scenes (especially in contrast to the later parts of the film) help bring out such subtle facial expressions of both love and grief.

Of course, another aspect of the film that dominates the first few minutes is social injustice. The workers have not been paid for months, and that is the main reason that drives the boys, including Souleiman, away to sea. However, though such unjust situations are what pushes Souleiman into leaving for a better pay, what brings Souleiman back is love. As such, the supernatural elements and social cruelties may allow the film to establish social milieu and build the world, it is the romance and love within the film that serves to thicken and further develop the plot. – Junyoung Choi

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