This film by Romain Gavras, in the form of a cry of alarm on the spiral of violence, shows the insurrection of a city like an ancient tragedy and imagines France sinking into civil war.
A shocking new film about the suburbs: Romain Gavras delivers a shattering and highly political work on Netflix on Friday, Athenawhich shows the insurrection of a city as an ancient tragedy and imagines France descending into civil war.
This film, in the form of a cry of alarm on the spiral of violence, follows during a disastrous day the fate of three men who will fall, after the death of their youngest brother, apparently the victim of a police blunder, in a crushing machine that nothing seems to be able to stop.
In a city on the verge of explosion, while Abdel (Dali Benssalah), engaged in the army, tries to calm people down and appeal to justice, while the eldest Moktar (Ouassini Embarek), drug dealer patented, only seeks to protect his business, the youngest, the impetuous Karim (Sami Slimane), calls on the “little ones” to rise up.
Caught in the spiral of violence, which will lead to the kidnapping of a CRS, played by Anthony Bajon, all three run to their loss. Off-screen, France falls into a civil war fueled by provocations from the far right.
Aesthetics à la “Apocalypse Now”
Athena is in line with Hatred by Mathieu Kassovitz and the Miserables by Ladj Ly, who co-wrote and co-produced it. “The idea is not to have bad guys and good guys, it’s more complex than that,” Romain Gavras told AFP. “There is an evil that is done at the beginning of the film and it is fate that comes to devastate everything.”
The film, shot in the Parisian suburbs of Evry, bets on an aesthetic between Gladiator and Apocalypse Now and does not claim any realism. Certain sequences marked the first spectators who discovered the film at the end of August at the Venice festival: the attack on a police station, a city with the air of a medieval castle defended by hordes of armed young people…
Two years after the controversy emerged North ferryaccused of playing into the hands of the extreme right by showing a reductive and “pro-police” vision of the cities, Athena takes a completely different look at the suburbs, but which promises to be just as divisive.
Not a thesis film
The son of the pope of committed cinema Costa-Gavras indeed delivers an explosive political charge. Even if the 41-year-old director, who caused controversy fifteen years ago with an ultra-violent clip for the music group Justice, denies having made a “thesis” film.
“I’m not sure that films have the power to stop anger”, considers the filmmaker. “You never know if films have an impact on people. For me, it was (seeing on screen) Marlon Brando who made me want to smoke… Afterwards, when you’re steeped in a anger, I don’t know if seeing a movie is going to stop it.”
“On the other hand, to give the vision, as the Greek tragedy did, of a black future, it is interesting”, continues the director. “The acceleration towards the worst, we feel it all over the world, in France, in Greece, in the United States… We are nourished by everything when we make a film. When a country is fragile, it It’s very easy to push him over the edge and exploit a general mood.”
By borrowing from ancient mythology, Romain Gavras “wanted to show in a timeless way that the tensions we are experiencing now are the tensions we have experienced since ancient Greece or even prehistory… It is always the same thing, different interests which lead to war, to conflict. And on the ground, it is the people who have an intimate pain who will be on the front line”.
These borrowings from Greek tragedy do not prevent Romain Gavras from multiplying in Athena nods to news images of recent years, including the arrest of high school students brought to their knees by police in 2018 in Mantes-la-Jolie or police violence on the sidelines of demonstrations of “yellow vests”.
Athena thus sounds like a warning: while the Athena city is on fire, it is the whole of France, fed with continuous news channels and yielding to the provocations of the far right, which is sinking into civil war.
Such a dystopia “allows you to explore a nightmare, what things could become, and to tell it with a symbolic form”, underlines Romain Gavras, whose clip No Church in the Wildfor Jay Z and Kanye West, already staged an insurrection.
“The ambition of the film is to show that there are always forces in the shadows that push for war. Today, the most powerful extreme to push for war is the ‘extreme right’,” said the director.
Athena risks losing its visual impact on the small screen: this Netflix product will not be released in theaters and is only available to subscribers. But his remarks should provoke many reactions in the weeks to come. Romain Gavras does not care: “People’s reactions do not necessarily make mass”, replied the one who believes that “it is not the films that throw oil on the fire”.