Atlantic Heart is one of only three films to emerge from the islands of Cape Verde off the Northwest coast of Africa. It is also the directorial debut of Govanhill born Robbie McCallum which makes Atlantic Heart a truly unique piece of cinema.
On its surface, Atlantic Heart is a heart-warming and powerful coming-of-age tale about an adolescent boy, Lucas (played by Elton Madina dos Santos), and his puppy called Lucky set against the vibrant background of the Mardi Gras Carnival as Lucas learns what it means to grow-up to become an adult. Lying just beneath the song and dance, however, sits a darker reality of life on the island. Through Lucas’ untouched innocence we experience the prostitution, violence, and cruelty thriving in Cape Verde’s backstreets and bars, while Lucas holds onto his childhood dreams of a better life for himself and his sister Telma (played by Aurizanta Monteira).
McCallum does not shy away from the harsh consequences of the everyday struggles of life on the island; he harnesses them to create a wide range of emotional pay-offs as we watch Lucas cope with his difficult situation where we must share in his pain, grief, and anguish but also be elevated alongside him when he is able to prevail through the darkness that surrounds him. Atlantic Heart is a reflection of the harsh reality faced by so many but it is also a message of optimism and hope that resonates deeply within the viewer. It assures us not to give up and to always hold on to our childhood dreams tightly, never to lose sight of them.
As a directorial debut, McCallum’s vision is beautifully realised with stunning cinematography by PJ Palomaki that simultaneously captures the natural beauty of Cape Verde’s landscape and the grandness of its wealthier and more prosperous areas alongside the desolate and deprived areas that Lucas wanders through. Combined with a minimalistic but effective score of plucky ukuleles and sombre piano by The Insects, the world and emotions that fill Atlantic Heart become a tangible and crucial aspect of the film which never fails to connect with the audience in meaningful ways.
A large part of Atlantic Heart’s success stems from Santos’s excellent performance that carries the film on its own. Lucas is a boy that cares for everyone close to him. He is innocent and loving but as the harsh realities of life sink-in after the disappearance of Lucky his innocence gradually starts to erode. Santos is able to capture his role as a young boy who has to struggle to hold onto his childhood whilst the world and everyone around him tries to rip it away from him. This is due largely to Lucas being such a well-written and relatable character who only wants his family to be happy. His strife is aided by a superb supporting cast who have all but lost their last remnants of the innocence that Lucas so desperately wants to hold on to. Ignored by his family and looked down upon by others, it falls to Lucas to undertake the task of finding Lucky alone – and in turn finding himself.
Atlantic Heart is a truly unique cinematic experience that is utterly entertaining and emotionally powerful throughout its entirety. It will have you smiling gleefully during its opening sequences and then leave you gasping in awe later. It is honest, beautiful, and a truly heartfelt creation that makes for a genuinely impactful and unmissable cinematic experience.