For the past few years, the news has been abuzz with Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe. Even as European countries tighten their borders, thousands continue to brave storms, unscrupulous human traffickers, and bureaucracy to make the perilous trip in barely seaworthy boats. Unauthorized migration to Europe isn’t just limited to Syrians though. Many from across the broader Middle East and Africa make the journey too.
But if the 2014 movie Atlantic has any basis in reality, there are ways besides boat to make it across the Mediterranean. The film, shot in Morocco by a Dutch director, tells the story of a Moroccan fisherman named Fettah, who wants to windsurf from his seaside village to Europe.
Why would he do such a thing? Well, supposedly it’s because he’s fallen in love with a French lady named Alexandra who, along with her boyfriend, stayed at his house while on a windsurfing vacation. The problem is, Atlantic barely shows any interaction between Fettah and Alexandra, much less convinces us that he has fallen for her so hard that he’d become an illegal windsurfing immigrant.
Without a plausible motivation, Fettah’s journey requires impossibly massive suspension of disbelief to appreciate. Before he even thinks of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, he chooses to windsurf several hundred kilometers northwards from his village to the north of Morocco, wearing himself down in the process. Wouldn’t it be more logical to use ground transportation first and then windsurf (a physically demanding task, it seems) only when absolutely needed in the final stretch? Oh right, Fettah’s supposed to be so madly in love that logic doesn’t apply though… really…?
Thinking too hard about Atlantic is unhelpful. However, it seems like the film strives to be philosophical, artistic, and therefore thought-provoking or at least poignant. To be fair, it’s visually stunning. If you enjoy beautiful sweeping ocean scenery or immaculately choreographed windsurfing scenes, watch away. Atlantic evokes the starry serenity of Terrence Malick — though only the annoying parts of it. We see shot after shot of visual poetry stitched together into something that, frankly, becomes meaningless and boring. It’s as if Sylvia Plath wrote a poetry collection with her feet while struggling to stick her head into an oven.
Atlantic is well-intentioned and artistic film, but spoils a unique premise on a mumbo-jumbo of visual elegance. It scuttles any backbone of thought or plot as it, much like its protagonist does, uses inefficient methods to bumble around vast, glistening waters.
Atlantic--Morocco, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Belgium. Dialog in Arabic with limited French and English. Directed by Jan-Willem van Ewijk. First released December 2014. Running time 1hr 34min. Starring Fettah Lamara, Thekla Reuten, and Mohamed Majd .