Athena brings French violence to Netflix

Movie will not play in French cinemas due to rules against streaming platforms
Sep 21, 2022
<p>Photo: AFP</p>

Photo: AFP

Having cut his teeth with striking music videos for the likes of Kanye West and MIA, director Romain Gavras brings an explosive vision of French inner-city unrest to Netflix on Friday.

Athena, which shows France descending into civil war following riots over police violence, has echoes of recent unsettling trends such as the Yellow Vest protests and the rise of the far right.

The director, son of the legendary – and highly political – French-Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras, insists the film is not trying to influence anyone.

“We never really know whether films have an impact on people,” he told AFP during the Venice Film Festival, where the film got its world premiere earlier this month.

“Personally, it was Marlon Brando who made me want to start smoking… but when we’re filled with anger, I don’t know if watching a film can stop it,” he added.

Athena plunges the audience, from its very first frames, into the rage and tumult of an inner-city suburb where riots break out over the death of a young man at the hands of the police.

Fanned by the far right, the unrest drags the whole country into civil war.

It bears comparison with La Haine, the hugely successful tale of unrest in the Paris suburbs from 1995 – though its heightened imagery has more in common with mythological Hollywood films such as Gladiator or Apocalypse Now.

What makes it all the more tragic is that France’s strict rules, aimed at curbing the influence of streaming platforms, mean Athena cannot be shown in French cinemas, though it will get a limited theatrical release in other countries.

“The film could not have been made without Netflix,” Gavras said, while adding his “great dismay” that it will not be shown on the big screen in his home country.

Over the precipice

It is the third full-length feature by the 41-year-old director, who gained international attention with music shorts such as Bad Girls by MIA, No Church in the Wild by Jay-Z and Kanye West, and Nothing Breaks Like a Heart by Mark Ronson.

His 2007 video for Justice’s Stress created a furor, showing young gang members on a rampage around Paris – and was banned from French TV.

Athena has universal relevance, said Gavras.

“A rapidly worsening situation is being felt everywhere in the world – in France, in Greece, in the United States.

“When a country is fragile, it’s very easy to push it over the precipice,” he said.

What lessons did Gavras pick up from his feted father, director of classics such as Z and The Confession?

“I learned rigour from him,” he said.

“And to brush my teeth every morning!”

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Athena

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