PFF 2019: Atlantics; So Long, My Son

by Rachel Bellwoar

The 28th Philadelphia Film Festival Coverage, Part 3

Atlantics

Directed by Mati Diop

Screenplay by Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel

It can be tricky to find trailers or clips online for festival films. Atlantics actually has a few but none that give away the film’s supernatural elements. Before the movie, I remember looking for confirmation of this promise that there would be something otherworldly involved. Even the tagline at the end of the trailer released by Netflix – “Every love story is a ghost story” – is subtle enough that you don’t have to take “ghosts” literally. In the end, though, I’m glad I didn’t find what I was looking for, because it meant I got to enjoy the film at its own pace.

Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) loves Souleiman (Traore) but is engaged to another man (Babacar Sylla). It’s not clear whether Souleiman knows this, but Ada’s running out of time (emphasized by, how after meeting Souleiman, she has to stop by her friend’s house and pick up her wedding dress) and while she keeps scheduling dates with him it’s also unclear whether she plans to go through with the wedding or not. Before Ada can make a decision, however, she finds out that Souleiman left in a boat for Spain without saying good-bye, after the fourth month of not getting paid at the construction site where he worked.

Unlike Flatland (reviewed here), Atlantics doesn’t start with the wedding so you have more time to understand why Ada accepted Omar’s proposal and what a future with him would like. Ada also has friends who are eager to offer advice on what they think she should do.

The night of Ada’s wedding the police are called, and it’s briefly mentioned that a new inspector (Amadou Mbow) almost fainted. You don’t think anything of it at the time, but it’s one of the first signs that something strange might be going on. Diop handles genre with a light touch and a steady hand that is remarkable for a debut feature. Atlantics is a film I might not have seen without the festival and stands to be one of my favorites this year.

Atlantics will be on Netflix starting November 29th.

 

So Long, My Son

Directed by Xiaoshuai Wang

Screenplay by Mei Ah and Xiaoshuai Wang

Three-hour movies are a rare phenomenon and usually when you do come across one it’s a Titantic or an extended version of Lord of the Rings. So Long, My Son isn’t anything like those but gives the same gravity to what, on the surface, is a very personal story of a couple grieving their young son’s death. By following Yaojun (Jingchun Wang) and Liyun (Mei Yong) across three decades (with the film choosing to jump around between time periods), So Long, My Son doesn’t just reflect on the impact this loss had on them but on the historical context of Communist China and the one-child policy (which lasted until 2015).

Until their hair turns gray, Yaojun and Liyun’s appearance doesn’t change much so it can be hard to follow the time jumps before fully grasping the plot. The film taps into this problem by creating confusion around Xingxing’s death, that’s later cleared up, once the timeline’s unscrambled. With a padded runtime that allows Ah and Wang to expand the circle to family friends and show how Xingxing’s death impacted them (including Xingxing’s best friend, Haohao), So Long, My Son never rushes grief but lets it take on different forms, with two, heartbreaking performances by Wang and Yong and rich, historical detail.

 

The 28th Philadelphia Film Fesitval ran from October 17th to October 27th. Click here for the full schedule.

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