There’s no better place to experience a movie than at its festival debut. Filmmakers from around the world bring forth projects that have made the cut of the event’s painstaking selection. These are often poignant films, typically marked by slow pace, extended dialogues and subdued scores. Then it comes Athena, which opens with a mesmerising long-shot, undoubtedly one of the most memorable this year. This ten-minute marvel follows rioters torching a police station before retreating to their banlieue, the camera astonishingly weaving in and out of their darting vans. The sequence culminates with an epic shot of the stronghold as Greek choirs add pathos, prompting spontaneous applause from the audience.
But let’s step back a moment. Athena is the latest film from Romain Gavras, son of legendary Costa. A music video director for the likes of Justice, M.I.A and Kanye West, Gavras crafts a narrative set in a Parisian banlieue. The plot thickens after a 13-year-old is found dead, apparently at the hands of the police, a narrative amplified by video footage circulating on social media. This tragedy pits brothers Abdel (Dali Benssalah) and Karim (Sami Slimane) on opposing ideological fronts. Abdel, an Algerian-French soldier, advocates for calm. In stark contrast, a defiant Karim leads a charged protest demanding accountability for young Idir’s death. As tensions rise, Moktar, a local drug dealer, navigates this upheaval to conceal his illicit stash. Abdel’s attempt to protect Athena’s residents, including an ex-terrorist named Sebastien, further fuels the estate’s escalating unrest.
Athena is more than a tale of fraternal bonds; it’s a commentary on societal justice and upheaval. Gavras channels the essence of a Greek tragedy, encapsulated in immersive long takes that offer a real-time vibe. The film’s tactile rawness, favouring practical effects over CGI, is palpable. The evocative score punctuates the narrative, juxtaposing action with introspection.
While many had set their sights on White Noise as Netflix’s standout in Venice, it’s Athena that truly delivers the streaming giant’s knock-out blow.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Athena is released on Netflix on 23rd September 2022.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.