French filmmaker of Greek origin Romain Gavras decided to follow the path of his much more famous father Costa, so he presented an action thriller with a strong activist message in the main program of the festival in Venice. Athena from the name of the film is a suburb of an unnamed French city where mostly immigrants from Africa and Asia live, thrown into those endless skyscrapers. The name of the neighborhood and the film were certainly not chosen by chance, because although “Athena” is a modern, exciting film about a real street war, Gavras and his co-writers Ladj Ly (Les Miserables) and Elias Belkeddar structured the story almost on the lines of a Greek tragedy.
The situation in the already heated neighborhood will erupt after the police beat a 13-year-old from Algeria to death. In the opening scene, his older brother Abdel (Dali Benssaleh), a non-commissioned officer in the French army, has just returned from a mission in Africa and learns that his brother has been killed. He is furious and wants those responsible to be punished, but not for violence, and the commemoration is in progress at the police station, when angry protesters led by the other brother, Karim (debutant Sami Slimane), burst in. Throwing Molotov cocktails begins, a real attack on the police station aimed at stealing weapons to arm the citizens of Athena who want open war with the police.
After that, we travel to Athena, which seems to be ready for war. Barricades have been built, people are arming themselves and preparing for clashes with the police. It soon becomes clear to us that there are several factions there and that not everyone has the same interests. There is also the third brother of the murdered 13-year-old, Moktar, the head of the local criminal organization and a dealer who has no interest in war because his business will suffer. There is also a group of peaceful tenants who are not in favor of violence and street war, but are trying to calm young and hot-headed people, aware that the war with state law enforcement agencies cannot possibly end well. However, the circle of violence began to close and Karim plans to spice up these confrontations, which will soon turn into an open street war, with the kidnapping of a policeman, and the young and inexperienced intervention policeman Jerome (Anthony Bajon) will seem like the best choice.
And “Athena” seemed a bit like a mix of the most famous film of Gavras Sr. “Z” with the debut work of the co-writer of this film “Les miserables” where we also followed the riots in one of these immigrant neighborhoods and the conflict with the police. However, “Athena” focused instead on the stories of the policemen, on the stories of the residents of that neighborhood, those angry and dissatisfied, almost ghettoized people who seem to symbolize the three brothers. Although he is a soldier, Abdel is a man of dialogue and conversation and finding a peaceful solution, while Moktar is an opportunist who only looks at his own benefit and how to get the best out of his chaotic environment. Finally, there is the youngest Karim, an angry and radical young man who is convinced that the system is broken and that there is no other solution than the complete destruction of that system and the construction of a new and fairer one.
Although the story here is fictional, it all seems very warning and even possible, and “Athena” stands out because of the way it was filmed. Almost the entire film was shot with a hand-held camera and it is constantly somewhere in the center of the confrontation and all that chaos, somewhere halfway between the police and the protesters. The viewer almost has the impression that he himself is there and it all seems more than realistic, real. Romain Gavras proved to be a capable director who obviously inherited his father’s activist and rebel gene, but also the quality to show well that real powder keg from the French suburbs that is apparently and really just waiting to explode.