CRITICISM – Romain Gavras’ film, which is released on Netflix, is inspired by Greek mythology to evoke urban violence. Without convincing.
Athena is the name of an imaginary suburb, but Romain Gavras’ film claims to describe real situations. In the opening scene, Yassine Bouzou plays herself. Adama Traoré’s lawyer denounces police violence in front of the cameras at the entrance to a police station. At his side, Abdel, played by Dali Benssalah, calls for calm after the death of his younger brother, Idir, following a blunder. A first Molotov cocktail puts an end to these words of appeasement. The young people of the city attack the police station, ransack the premises and steal the weapons. The sequence shot takes them back to their concrete kingdom. It ends with a spectacular camera movement, showing the rioters as the warriors of a fortress to be defended.
Romain Gavras wants to put Greek mythology on a French reality. He claims to film the siege of the city Athena by the CRS like that of Troy. Without horse or beautiful Hélène. He could also have plated Russian literature (The Karamazov Brothers) or Italian neo realism (Rocco and his brothers). Gavras uses the principle of siblings, each member of which embodies a psychosocial archetype.
In addition to Abdel, a soldier returning from Mali, wise or traitor depending on the point of view, we find Moktar, a stupid and wicked dealer and Karim, leader of an army of hooded scum ready to defend a noble cause.
Other characters allow the director to tick the boxes of the suburban film. Sébastien (Alexis Manenti) dons the costume of a converted Muslim, half-gardener, half-gas canister specialist. Anthony Bajon recovers a panoply of CRS. Taken hostage and protected by Abdel, he spares the goat and the cabbage. The real villains are absent from the picture. Soon enough, the media inform that the blunder is the work of members of a far-right small group disguised as police officers, igniters to set the country ablaze. Gavras co-wrote the screenplay with Ladj Ly, his comrade in the Kourtrajmé collective, noticed at the Cannes Film Festival with his first feature film, Wretched. Athena resembles a heavy-handed sequel that forgets the complexity of the balance of power.
Gavras had already created controversy in 2008 by signing Stressthe clip of the group Justice. The world is yourshis previous film, made laugh with guys from the city, all very stupid. Athena would pass Hatred by Mathieu Kassovitz for a masterpiece. It makes you want to see the first films of Jean-François Richet (State of play, My 6-T is going to crack-er). Shot without the means of Netflix but otherwise more impactful.