It is an expected film that turns out to be disappointing. Athena, a new feature film by Romain Gavras, son of committed filmmaker Costa-Gavras, was presented in competition at the 79th Venice Film Festival. Available this Friday September 23 on Netflix, it offers a visual spectacle, but lacks the violence and the weakness of the scenario.
In the difficult district of Athena, the death of Idir, 13, beaten by police, as suggested by a video circulating on social networks, sets fire to the powder. To speed up the course of justice and find out the names of the culprits, his brother Karim commits the irreparable. With the youth of the district, he attacks the police station in a surge of violence, then takes the city hostage. Deaf to the calls for reason from his older brother Abdel, a soldier returned from Mali, Karim captures a young CRS, Jérôme. It’s civil war.
A result between tragedy and parody
Athena was co-written by director Ladj Ly, author of the filmWretched, four times Caesarized in 2020, which realistically developed a similar theme. Romain Gavras underlines the scale of a Greek tragedy in this new feature film. If this epic bias was promising on paper, the result on the screen sometimes seems parodic, as the clichés are pushed to their extremes. Whether in the treatment of the characters – a bestial and depthless mass of easily insulted young people – or in the situations – CRS mounted on white horses attacking concrete towers.
The rage to take revenge that Karim and Abdel in turn feel could have brought panache to the scenario, in many Manichean aspects. But the outcome of this revenge remains far too predictable, and the dialogues simplistic – “Each time you hit it, you hit it, each time you kill it, you kill it”, strikes Karim by haranguing his “troops”. Violence, omnipresent and complacent.
Dali Benssalah, a stunning Abdel
Sometimes, the staging comes to enhance the whole. In a skilful choreography, the camera revolves around the actors, in long sequence shots – eleven impressive minutes for the attack on the police station. Above all, Dali Benssalah, who embodies the loyal Abdel, bluffs with his charisma and the power of his game. Already spotted by director Cary Joji Fukunaga, he played the antagonist of James Bond in Dying can wait. In Athenahe swaps his cybernetic eye for the hero’s clothes, powerless to prevent the tragic outcome, for him as for his brother Karim.
With references to certain current events of recent years – yellow vests, police blunders, the role of continuous channels and the influence of the extremes, the ambition of this highly political film was “to show that there are always forces in the shadows that push for war”as Romain Gavras said during the presentation of the feature film at the Venice Film Festival.