Venice: Stunning tracer footage outlines Roman Javras’ deep action drama around a powder keg of ethnic and religious tensions in modern France.
Excuse me for my French, but first shot Roman Javras“”Athens“—a sketch of a Greek tragedy planted in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris—is absolutely insane. Even in the digital age where dazzling feature-length films are a dime a dozen (and too easy to fake), the person who lights that Roman candle for a movie about a police siege of a neighborhood Poor is something else. She stands out for her fiery violence, the ground she covers, and the incandescent energy blasting off the screen like a Molotov cocktail being tossed by Karim (Sami Suleiman) into a crowd of policemen and reporters assembled for a press conference in the local circuit.
Today’s news is for the young agitator: Karim’s 13-year-old brother was killed, and a video of police officers beating him to death went viral. It proved to be the breaking point in the tensions between the police and the Muslim-majority French-Algerian community in Athens, and the fact that the military hero of Karim’s older brother Abd (Dali Bensalah) was the man on the podium at the time of the attack. It doesn’t stop him from launching it.
Karim’s crew roams the station under his command, from Zero to “Assault on Outpost 13” at the drop of a hat as they raid the building in search of his weapons. The delightful picture of these boys and men driving home their stolen hideout along the highway driving back to the castle-like Athena estate – their truck surrounded by motorbikes with wheels crackling and fireworks blaring in every direction – is one of the most exhilarating. that you will see on the cinema screen. It’s the grand finale of the orgy from a shot that epitomizes Gavras’s ultra-chic cinema of reclamation, the unmistakable high point of the film with 80 minutes left and nowhere else to go.
Like “Our Day Will Come” and “The World Is Yours” before it, “Athena” Gavras is the legendary, violent and mysterious tale of an oppressed underclass that takes revenge on the system that has wronged them; I find that the director continues to carry his father’s torch into the twenty-first century with blazing style and socio-political gestures rather than greater substance.
Athena effectively exploits the class, race, and religious anger of modern France, which it sees as a powder keg waiting just for the right spark to explode, but the film’s vast saga of fraternity in a crisis so subtle and symbolic that any deeper connection to the real world is sacrificed at the altar of distress. A force that resists psychology, obscures the social and political context, and eventually swallows itself whole.
Meanwhile, this intensity can limit the divine. The siege sequence in “Athens” – which makes up the entire film to some extent – is so deeply structured that it often seems as if Gavras is not denouncing civil war so much as descending from carnage. The queasy feeling of witnessing a race riot masterfully staged “The Raid 2” is only mitigated by how unrealistic the action is amid such a painfully plausible scenario.
The exemplary nature of Gavras’s storytelling allows him and Ledge Lee (director of the 2019 film Les Misérables of a similar title) to get away with murder. Since Athena was one of the three deities involved in the feud that incited the Trojan War, Karim and Abd go on to two of three surviving siblings who find themselves at odds as the world breaks out around them. The third is a drug dealer who suddenly finds himself rushing to save his goods when the police storm the project.
Moktar (Ouassini Embarek) is the eldest son and most affected by the loss of the youngest member of his family, but he is also the one who cares the most about themselves. This self-interest makes him something of a wild card in a story whose dynamics are often admirably predictable; While Karim and Abed have conflicting opinions about the value of choosing violence, Mokhtar is a highly stressed-out chaos agent and always does what is most convenient for him. This makes him the only one able to calm the fraternal tensions in the story, but anyone who’s seen a Gavras movie before should know to expect Moktar to make things worse.
There are a few other key players to speak of – including the cute riot policeman Jerome (Anthony Pagon) who’s taken hostage, and the sweet-sounding terrorist Sebastien (Alexis Manenti) who’s back in France after serving a prison sentence in the Middle East and wants Only to take care of his garden in peace or make huge homemade bombs, depending on what the plot requires of him at a given moment – but cinematographer Matthias Bouckard and his crew deserve the best billing, as Athena is never as interested in any of his characters as in Photographing around them.
This is a film that distills the simplest version of “us versus them” into a series of ever-changing paintings that resonate with centuries of general historical bloodshed. A battalion of riot police resembling “300” rushes toward Athens, dozens of bodies piling together as fireworks erupt from all sides. The howling of the children’s choir rushes to the soundtrack, their little voices singing in Greek. Mothers and children scream for safe passage as hordes of young men run toward danger and tear gas pours in like a thick morning mist. Some of the tracking footage is long enough that it looks like it could span from one era of war to the next.
Perhaps the more self-aware film recognized the weaknesses of its storytelling and embraced the representative essence of the Gavras direction, eschewing the theatrical scenes of Karim and Abdel yelling at each other in favor of becoming a full-fledged military ballet. Gavras – may God have mercy on him – sincerely believes that the wrath of the dispossessed can be expressed through aesthetics alone, and I cannot get rid of the feeling that Athena would have been more dreadful and more successful if she had wholly possessed the courage of this conviction. As it stands, this is just a really cool movie about a country ready to catch fire; Who burns himself long before he can find any meaning in the flames.
Grade: C +
“Athens” premiered in 2022 Venice Film Festival. Netflix will show it in select theaters on Friday, September 9, before making it available to stream starting Friday, September 23.