Directed by: Romain Gavras

Written by: Romain Gavras, Ladj Ly, Elias Belkeddar

Starring: Dali Benssalah, Sami Slimane, Anthony Bajon, Ouassini Embarek, Alexis Manenti

Rating: [4.5/5]

“No justice, no peace” has stood as one of the mantras of the protests against police brutality. A combination of words insinuating senseless violence will not be met with calm and decorum. The only act in return will be met in-kind, which exemplifies the burning rage encapsulating Athena. A film thin on story but apoplectic in its emotion and a technical marvel in its construction. 

Following the death of a young boy at the hands of three police officers, a group of young men led by the brother of the murdered individual, Karim (Sami Slimane) creates an all-out assault on the police. Now they hold a poor neighborhood as their stronghold as they refuse to comply until justice is served. 

Beginning initially with a press conference with media and police officers speaking on developments of the investigation, Athena lays out the main emotional issue at the center. Once the camera pans away from the individuals with the microphone and shifts to Karim, the film begins its incredible ascent into demonstrating impeccable filmmaking. The oner that starts everything off comes filled with angles and shots that make you sit back and ask “how in the world they did they film that?” Moment after moment of incredible action, we get pulled in for the ride with no idea what this film has in store. Truly a one-shot sequence for the ages and the way it sets the tone for what this film seeks to accomplish simply astounds. 

Opening with a oner, the film utilizes this method to tell most of its story as the camera follows these characters through their distinct perspectives throughout the turmoil of the circumstance. The lens follows Karim on the side of the uprising and Abdel, the eldest brother as the individual trying to find peace and resolution on both sides. We follow both of them throughout the feature and get to learn more about them, how they operate, and what ultimately matters the most with some sort of end in sight. In the moments they converge, it brings the feeling of a collision like no other as it clashes two enemies who happen to share the same blood but do not stand on the same side of this critical issue. 

Exploring the idea of no peace until justice is served poses an intriguing dialogue of what it would look like to have the type of urban warfare displayed in this feature. From the opening scene that details these youths robbing a police station to their journey to the stronghold, it begins to question how there could possibly be a happy ending for this story in any way. This relates directly to how this comes to pass in the real world and while justice may bring some level of peace, it will not bring back the lost loved one. The anger subsided if everything in the aftermath occurs as it should but nothing will ever completely make up for the mourning and loss caused. No true happy ending can possibly occur and it hints at what this feature will eventually do with its narrative. 

On a visual level, this film contains some of the most stunning shots captured on film. Not just from the one-shots but the way the feature turns Parisian suburbs into an utter warzone. The budget for pyrotechnics for the fireworks alone probably encompassed most of the operating figure for the film but it most assuredly creates some stunning shots. Not only does this visual impressiveness show itself in singular shots but also in defining the characters and who they are. From Karim and his fellow youths lined up in a way to indicate a battle position to the near-symphonic chaotic choreography of the track-suit-wearing youths shows a discernible style that allows for nothing to be lost and a complete lack of ambiguity. 

Utilizing bluntness with its storytelling and diving into this aggravating topic, it came as no surprise Ladj Ly co-wrote the screenplay. Given the incredibly impactful nature of his 2019 feature, Les Misérables, this film feels like a companion piece but instead of seeing it through the perspective of the officers, it becomes more shared. With Ly having a hand to play in the feature, so much of the success lies in the hands and mind of director Romain Gavras. Having a film of this technical prowess at this stage of his young filmmaking career is nothing but incredible. A level of control and bravery behind the scenes to put together scenes like what we experience defies any expectation and makes it assuredly difficult to ever top. A cataclysmic cacophony of rage and he manages to take an all-encompassing topic and keeps it to a personal level as a battle between brothers with one already dead. Top marks to Gavras. 

Athena feels like nothing you have ever seen before while telling a tale that has seen more run due to obvious recent events. This feature represents more than just anger about the perils of police brutality but an honest expression of there not being a concrete answer of how reconciliation can be reached and how anyone can just move on in a society that just mercilessly took the life of a 13-year-old boy. An astounding technical achievement on so many levels that provides such an intoxicating experience that shocks in its composition and astounds when you learn about the details and the execution needed to tie everything together. My jaw may have been on the floor on multiple occasions and with good reason. 

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