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Athena

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Athena
Photograph: Netflix
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Romain Gavras's urban Greek tragedy is a visceral tour de force

You won’t see many more visceral and incredible opening sequences than the one that kicks off Romain Gavras’s Athena. It’s an 11-minute one-take tracking shot that takes us through a Parisian estate under siege. The hand-to-hand combat feels like The Raid, the camera trickery is is Children of Men-esque, and the lighting is at least partly provided by exploding Molotov cocktails.

It starts with a teenager’s death at the hands of cops on an edgy banlieue – the 13-year-old brother of Abdel (No Time to Die’s Bali Benssalah) – and from there rides shotgun with characters in the middle of the carnage.

The admittedly thin plot is straight out of La Haine and Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables (perhaps unsurprising in Ly’s case as he serves as co-writer on this). Modelled on a Greek tragedy (Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare), the lack of dialogue for exposition is maddeningly confusing. But Gavras wants the audience to feel like the protagonists, unable to find a safe footing, exposed to the war zone atmosphere, and unsure about what will happen next. Athena is a highbrow action film where the plot about three brothers responding to the unfolding events with different selfish motivations reveals itself flittingly. 

Anyone who loves their cinema to be a rollercoaster ride will soak it up

And those bursts of action double down impressively on the type of bravura filmmaking that is Gavras’s stock-in-trade. His list of riotous (in both senses) music videos includes MIA’s ‘Born Free’, Kanye West's ‘No Church in the Wild’ and Justice’s ‘Stress’. Athena takes those same themes and visual grammar and runs with them for 90 minutes. It’s shot on IMAX, which only amps up the scale and adrenaline levels.

It's the movie where Gavras moves into the political territory for which his father, Costa (Z and Missing), is famed. Athena’s dystopian view of our present day, showing a collapsing world with black-and-white mentalities, selfishly motivated, and with a desperate underclass left angry and adrift, feels like an urgent message. Anyone who loves their cinema to be spectacular, immersive and a rollercoaster ride will soak it up.

Streaming on Netflix worldwide now.

Written by
Kaleem Aftab

Cast and crew

  • Director:Romain Gavras
  • Screenwriter:Romain Gavras, Ladj Ly, Elias Belkeddar
  • Cast:
    • Anthony Bajon
    • Sami Slimane
    • Dali Benssalah
    • Alexis Manenti
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