Netflix’s ‘Athena’ is a masterpiece about police violence and social unrest

Athena, director Romain Gavras’ film about an rebellion in a French housing block following what seems to be a police killing of a kid, is a riveting, thrilling, formally astounding rush. It opens with probably the most spectacular (stitched-together) lengthy take I’ve seen in years: With out slicing, the digicam follows a band of youths as they ransack a police station, steal a secure stuffed with weapons, then flee down a freeway again to their housing block, which has been transformed into one thing like a medieval fortress. Someway, over the course of a decent 97 minutes, the film by no means lets up, holding and even constructing on the spectacle promised within the opening shot. 

It seems like a miracle: How, you retain questioning, am I seeing this? How may this have been made? It is a masterpiece, and it’s nearly definitely among the finest movies of the yr. 

I would say it is the explanation why I’m going to the flicks, besides that, properly, it is not the kind of film one goes to see: It is a Netflix movie, which implies I noticed at dwelling, and most of its different viewers most likely will too.

Even on the small display, it packs a wallop. No different shot fairly matches the sheer bravado of the opening, however Athena’s formal daring continues all through, with vivid and imaginative scenes virtually hurling themselves on the viewer. The film is structured as a kind of siege image, with the youths who ransacked the police station defending their dwelling in opposition to a battalion of SWAT-style riot cops. Because the cops transfer via the housing block courtyard, they lock right into a kind of Roman phalanx formation, whereas the encompassing youngsters set off bottle rockets and Molotov cocktails. It is eerie, unsettling, and surprisingly attractive. 

And there is extra to this film than simply technical gumption. Athena clearly has some sympathies with the rioters, who’re reacting to viral video exhibiting the brutal killing of a younger boy. Their demand is easy: Launch the names of the officers accountable. However the film would not merely let the rioters off the hook for his or her violence both: It makes certain to indicate the methods it hurts their fellow housing block residents, destroying their property, forcing them to evacuate, harming the susceptible. It isn’t a pro-riot film, even when it feeds off the rioters’ chaotic vitality.

It even manages to seek out some empathy for the police, by following one of many riot cops—a father of 4, we be taught—who’s taken prisoner by the rioters. He is simply attempting to outlive and get dwelling to his youngsters.

The primary characters are the three older brothers of the slain little one. One is the chief of the riots, one other is a drug vendor attempting to guard his enterprise, and the opposite is a soldier who—simply earlier than the police station riot—addresses the media, demanding justice for his sibling but in addition pleaing for calm and peace. The violence breaks out earlier than he finishes his remarks.

The film’s dedication to propulsive motion means the characters seem as sketches greater than as absolutely drawn human beings. However they find yourself as tragic archetypes, introduced collectively and aside by what quantities to a small-scale battle for his or her dwelling.

This French image’s notions about city unrest and police violence do not fairly absolutely map onto American debates about police killings, however they are not unrelated. If there is a flaw within the movie, it is a late twist that muddies and even absolves traces of duty for the inciting act of violence. Even nonetheless, it is in service of a noble aim: The film needs to see—and desires viewers to see—the state of affairs via the eyes of every of its foremost characters and what they symbolize. It needs to grasp individuals, not vilify them. Athena‘s capability for empathy is almost as spectacular as its filmmaking.

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