Athena (2022)

Athena film review

Athena (2022) Directed by Romain Gavras

Athena is the film that cries out to be discussed even though it does not provide us with enough material to do so. Athena‘s hyper-realistic kineticism carries a very complicated dramatic hierarchy, very impertinent too, mainly because in that hierarchical dramaturgy formal rhetoric is doggedly at the top of its cinematic scale and its unexplored subject matter at the bottom of its priorities.

There comes a point at which the subversive noise of the popular clamor in Athena echoes in a hollow continuation, expands its coruscating insubordination to nowhere. To understand the anarchic scenario of this mutinous film, one must first specify and justify the portentous rhyme of the sequence shots that ornament with chaos and tension the energetic and inexorable hyperactivity of its context, yet I find it very problematic to rationalize its visual design when its use is the most elementary of all. For some reason, contemporary filmmakers have succumbed to the idea that laborious sequence shots only serve to prolong taut effects and stimulate an exercise in three-dimensional immersion to the events within the frames; there is much truth to this, at least from a purely pragmatic perspective, yet I believe that much of their primary nature and complexity is wasted when they are given only a function of continuity and emotional intensity. In essence, the execution of long takes can make a film operate in a vividly realistic scenario, and Athena’s filmmakers intuitively do that functionally and with exceptional organization, but there comes a point when the superfluity of their acrobatic execution becomes an annoying form of analytical obstruction that frustratingly ruins their “didactic” objectives altogether.

There is grandeur and superlative force in Athena, that is indisputable, director Romain Gavras strives to compose not a tragedy with modern evocations nor does he seek to inflame emotions with obstructive schmaltz, he manages to enliven revolutionary idealisms with the parameters of classical mythology. The focus on action, the glorification sequences of rebellion and the sense of fighting for what is right, is portrayed with operatic spectacle and a profuse wrathful lyricism that seeks to give the impression of allegorizing a universal fact rather than expressing a specific fact. Counterproductively, the audiovisual agility and enormity of its itinerant spirit, instead of generating an intellectually rich and multidimensional response, leaves only a visceral wallop that is sustained exclusively by its visual euphuism rather than by what it contains. It is thoughtless in its socio-political verbiage but even more dangerously it is hopelessly alienated from the importance of its failed social exegesis.

The social turmoil and explosion of violence that is unleashed in a neighborhood called Athena, originates from the unjustified and brutal death of Idir, a young Algerian Frenchman, who was apparently killed by the French police. One of Idir’s brothers, Karim played by Sami Slimane, initiates with a large number of people an expansive seditious protest aimed at unveiling the fury and indignation of a people against the status quo and at the same time making the still unidentified perpetrators of his brother’s murder pay for the horrendous crime. Abdel played with symphonic anger and powerful aggressiveness by Dali Benssalah is also Idir’s and Karim’s brother, but unlike Karim who seeks revenge under revolutionary postulates, he decides to solve the social crisis in a more diplomatic way, especially considering that he is part of the French police. The conflicts between the two brothers are to be expected, and the confrontational dialectic is sprinkled in every corner of the character development; there is something extremely genuine in the writing of these two characters that somehow gives a profound voice to the rebellious chant and the forcefulness of its Greek tragedy structure.

Showing two drastically different perspectives in position with the event that unites and ultimately separates them solidifies its theatrical analogies and vitalizes the narrative even though there is little or none of it. The most complex thing about dealing with the thematic properties of a film of this nature is to have the perceptive tact sufficient for the controversial to be intellectualized and thus eventually explored for the right reasons. Athena wants to epitomize popular insubordination as a heroic act, as a romantic Marxist paean, and simultaneously wants to extract from that poetization of popular protest a critical theory such as specifying its detrimental consequences. But interestingly, it proposes to give empathetic insights to the other side as well, forcing the audience to neutralize his opinions, although to tell the truth, it seems from my particular point of view, a series of fallacies and incongruities that end up burying its much-sought-after social commentary in a declamatory articulated without the necessary scrutiny.

There is something that should be made clear, especially today in the 21st century, state terrorism does not justify the terrorism of the people, nor vice versa, they are not interchangeable either; the issues that constantly surround the philosophy of social violence must have a context, a fact, a social, economic and political impact that really nourish it with answers to its origin. Here in Athena the negligible visual storytelling it draws from its bombastic orchestration of twirling camera movements doesn’t help to deepen what it depicts, only remaining a stylized surface and purple prose that doesn’t give its boisterous energy the weight it deserves.

Romain Gavras offers us his talent to orchestrate a formal adrenaline thrill to behold, yet illogically, he does not offer legitimate narrative mechanisms to this serpentine formality. It’s a rhyme that keeps repeating the same thing, yes, it’s startling to see the swiftness of its sequence shots, but after its opening sequence, the iteration ceases to be a technicality to admire and remains a cycle of redundancy. Athena is as close to being a remarkable film as it is far from being a great one.


Matteo Bedon
About Author

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.