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. All against a backdrop of neo-Nazi provocations.
“The idea is not to have bad guys and good guys, it’s more complex than that,” the director told AFP. “There is an evil that is done at the beginning of the film and it is fate that comes to devastate everything,” he added.
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 will remain engraved in the memories: the attack on a police station, the defense of a city with the air of a medieval castle defended by hordes of armed young people…
Two years after the release of the “Bac Nord” controversy, accused of playing the game of the far right by showing a reductive and “pro-police” vision of the cities, it is a completely different look, which also promises to divide , which “Athena” is about the suburbs.
– “Forces push for war” –
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.
Under its air of ancient tragedy, “Athena” multiplies the 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 the demonstrations of “yellow vests”.
It also sounds like a warning: while the city of Athena is on fire, it is the whole of France, fed with continuous news channels and yielding to provocations from the far right, which is sinking into civil war.
“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 during the presentation of the film at the Venice Film Festival in early September.
“I make images, I have no solution. I am not a politician”, continued Romain Gavras, co-founder of the informal collective of creators Kourtrajmé, whose unvarnished works have since marked the spirits and who also strives to put a foot in the stirrup of talent from working-class neighborhoods.
The film is also in line with “La Haine” by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995), and “Les Misérables” by Ladj Ly (2019), who co-wrote and co-produced it.
Leaving Venice empty-handed, however, it risks losing its visual impact on the small screen: this Netflix product will not be released in theaters and is only accessible to subscribers.
“The film could not have been made” without the platform, believes Romain Gavras, who nevertheless recognizes his “great dismay” at not being able to show it on the big screen in France.