Athena, a protest-action film on Netflix, erupts as one long final scene

Athena, a protest-action film on Netflix, erupts as one long final scene ...

Athena, the latest film from music video producer Romain Gavras, is a one-trick pony, but the technique is so formally dazzling that it is a stunning experience. Three French-Algerian brothers in Paris young and middle-aged adults from different walks of life are thrown into turmoil in the immediate aftermath of a tragic family tragedy.

The youngest brother, Karim (Sami Slimane), is a drug and weapons dealer who only cares about himself. The culprits caught on video appear to be French police.

The opening sequence of the film sets the stage for many impressive tableaus of state violence and anti-fascist uprising, each of which begins as a personal portrait before pulling out to reveal a larger picture. The scene ignites when a group of angry demonstrators lobs a Molotov cocktail at the pulpit. The subsequent unbroken take lasts more than 10 minutes.

The sequence begins in a highly sterilized building, then explodes into white-knuckle chaos as Karim and dozens of other black-clad demonstrators drive them across the city in a high-octane chase, returning to the Athena housing complex, named appropriately for the Olympian goddess of battle strategy.

This eruption, it appears, was a long time coming. For years, police slaughtering of civilians and subsequent protests have dominated headlines in France. Athena opens during a stunning climax that lasts for almost all of its 97 minutes. What we witnessed in watching Athena is the beginning of an inevitable conflict.

Gavras captures it with cranes, drones, and other devices that defy logic, and frames it with dozens upon thousands of additional objects in winding, gigantic patterns. It's tactile, yet ethereal. The camera dips between cars, shooting them from across the street like passing chariots, then rides up alongside them and dives inside them again to capture the head-spinning scale of the uprising.

Gavras loops on the action charges at an astonishing rate, implying how widespread this furor already is by the time the film begins. It gives us a good idea of the streets between the police station and Athena, where thousands of people gather to cheer Karim on, and where the rest of the story will take place.

Rarely has a film resembled the thrill of riding a rollercoaster, with peaks and valleys that narrate excitement before each subsequent drop. Abdel and Karim lead opposing charges, while their half-brother Moktar weaves in and out of both plots, protecting his business interests first and foremost, when he might be assisting either side. Their symbolism leads to a straightforward narrative that avoids lengthy explanations.

The narrative is straightforward, but it runs the risk of being overly complicated. Gavras obscures some of the more straightforward emotional material. Athena centers on a vicious killing, and the subsequent plot plays like a magnified externalization of grief that has grown uncontainable following many state-sanctioned executions. However, the audience is never given the opportunity to ponder on this grief, or to truly experience it through the brothers' eyes.

This symbolic representation of the characters' emotional wounds lends itself to Gavras' artistic vision throughout his career, particularly M.I.A.s Born Free, which depicts militarized police hunting blackheads in a fantasy-racism scenario, and Jay-Z and Kanye Wests No Church in the Wild, which depicts some of the most striking imagery of outrage in popular media.

Athena plays out as a feature version of the visual fixations in those compressed stories where brutal state violence is a preexisting illness whose root diagnoses are an afterthought, but whose terminal symptoms Gavras explores in stark, visceral shades. (The film is also, in subtler ways, a successor to Gavras' video for Signature by his late friend DJ Mehdi, a vivid depiction of a suburban community where the camera captures detail and lived experience by moving

Given the amount of time and effort invested in the personal drama that underlies the film, Gavras' hands, the style is also the substance, with a realism that enlivens the film in ways that are both narratively inevitable and visually prophetic. The filmmakers appear to be exploring the hidden dimensions of these police-protester conflictes through movement, which tilts and turns as if to capture every possible vantage.

The long-distance narration in Athena isnt just a neat gimmick, as it arguably is in Sam Mendes 1917, a war film that loses perspective on the characters' surroundings, causing its tension to dissipate. Instead, the choreography in Athena is its own symphony, blending heavy, thick smoke with operatic vocalizations in a fixed state of crescendo.

Athena is shot by Gavras with IMAX cameras, making it all the more suitable for streaming as an arresting visual spectacle first and foremost. However, a small-screen viewing on Netflix might still be emotionally charged, since another key ingredient is filmmaker Ladj Ly, who co-wrote The 2019 Les Miserables, which was nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.

While Lys' approach is more measured (and arguably more nuanced) than Athenas, Gavras' audacious, mile-a-minute stylings result in a few quiet moments. These reintroduce the characters into a tense world that threatens to consume them. And their own irrepressible anger is equally as terrifying. With Athena, Gavras transforms that anger into living dioramas that become emotionally rousing as well.

Starting on September 23, Athena will be available on Netflix.

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