After cutting his teeth with gripping music videos for Kanye West and MIA, director Romain Gavras brings an explosive take on the unrest in downtown France to Netflix on Friday.
“Athena”, which shows France descending into civil war following riots against police violence, echoes recent troubling trends such as the “yellow vest” protests and the rise of the far right.
The director, son of the legendary – and very political – Franco-Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras, insists that the film does not seek to influence anyone.
“We never really know if movies have an impact on people,” he told AFP at the Venice Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere earlier this month.
“Personally, it was Marlon Brando who made me want to start smoking…but when you’re filled with anger, I don’t know if watching a movie can stop it,” he added.
“Athena” plunges the viewer, from its first images, into the rage and tumult of a downtown suburb where riots break out following the d*ath of a young man at the hands of the police.
Fueled by the far right, the unrest dragged the whole country into civil war.
It bears comparison to ‘La Haine’, the wildly successful 1995 tale of the unrest in the Parisian suburbs – although its heightened imagery has more in common with Hollywood mythology films such as ‘Gladiator’ or ‘Apocalypse Now’.
What makes it all the more tragic is that France’s strict rules, aimed at limiting the influence of streaming platforms, mean that “Athena” cannot be shown in French cinemas, although it gets 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 was not released on the big screen in his home country.
– ‘Above the precipice’ –
This is the 41-year-old director’s third feature film, who has garnered international attention with musical shorts such as MIA’s “Bad Girls,” Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” and “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Mark Ronson.
His 2007 video for Justice’s ‘Stress’ created an uproar, showing young gang members running amok around Paris – and was banned from French TV.
“Athena” has universal relevance, Gavras said.
“A rapidly worsening situation is being felt all over the world – in France, in Greece, in the United States.
“When a country is fragile, it’s very easy to tip it over the edge,” he said.
What lessons did Gavras learn from his doting father, director of classics such as ‘Z’ and ‘The Confession’?
“I learned the rigor from him,” he said.
“And brush my teeth every morning!”
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