Director Jan-Willem van Ewijk‘s second feature film, “Atlantic.” (yes there’s a period in the title) is an elegiac, lyrical tribute to yes, the Atlantic Ocean, and the complicated and deep relationship one man has with the sea. Almost an “All Is Lost” on a windsurfing board, “Atlantic.” features his incredible journey on the ocean, motivated by love and loss. Flashing back and forward in time, the film is a dreamlike, salty slice of life on the Moroccan coast, driven forward by the waves, the wind, and the water.
Fettah (Fettah Lamara, a real-life Moroccan windsurfer) is on a strange and inexplicable journey. He’s windsurfing up the Moroccan coast, sleeping at night in his sail, subsisting on nuts and water from his backpack. When he arrives on the rocky shore in Casablanca and meets a friendly fisherman, he explains his journey a bit: he’s going much farther north, to Europe in fact. This spurs a flashback to his previous life and the events that led him this way. It’s a simple life for Fettah, living and working with his fisherman father on the coast of Morocco. He pines for his mother, long dead, and pals around with the local kids and tourist windsurfers, pulling tricks on the open ocean for days on end.
When Fettah’s friend Jan (played director Jan-Willem van Ewijk) crashes at his place for a few days with his girlfriend Alexandra (Thekla Reuten), things are suddenly thrown topsy turvy for Fettah, who is unaccustomed to a female presence in the house and drawn to the young Dutch woman. He quickly develops an unrequited and impossible crush, much of it motivated by the memories of his mother. After Jan and Alexandra depart, at some point thereafter, Fettah sets off on the arduous task of windsurfing to Europe. It’s almost as if he knows that it’s impossible and unlikely, but he is driven by some inner force caused by grief, loss, or an absence of love in his life.
The cinematography and aerial photography of the ocean and the windsurfing is absolutely stunning, eliciting cheers from the crowd at Le Colisee theater in Marrakech. Lamara, while a non-professional actor, is a soulful and compelling presence on screen, able to telegraph Fettah’s longing and loss, and his physicality and prowess in the ocean and on the board is essential for the character. Ultimately the most important relationship he has is the one with the sea, one that is enveloping and unforgiving.
The film is anchored by Fettah’s voice-over directed to Wisal, a little moppet who plays with the windsurfers and tries to sell them things. She seems to be everyone’s and no one’s child, a little buddy for Fettah, and perhaps the only one who might understand. He implores her to think of him when she sees the ocean, but in some ways it’s a bit confusing as to why this inner monologue is addressed to her.
“Atlantic.” is a beautiful film with lots of potential, but ultimately, the flashback structure robs the it of its own momentum. While Fettah is battling the sea, a flashback interrupts in order to elucidate his motivations and emotions, perhaps, but draining the suspense out of his journey in that moment. Also, his motivations seem fuzzy at best, as the crush he harbors is totally unrealistic, as is his journey. Alexandra seems like a cipher for something else, as their relationship is not colored in enough to seem like there is anything there.
Gorgeously shot and with a fine performance from Lamara, “Atlantic.” showcases an interesting community in a lovely part of the world, and creates a poetic and profoundly melancholy tale of one man’s onerous journey in seeking something more for himself. Is it adventure? Love? It’s hard to tell, but it’s lovely, if sad, to watch. [B]