It is Monday and a start of another bright week after a lovely weekend. And this was the perfect opportunity to keep abreast with some of the International films doing the rounds lately. With that I finished watching the new French film Athena which had recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Just to let you in on a little secret, I had no idea about this film until I came across a tweet by one of my favourite directors Anurag Kashyap. And if he does recommend a film, chances are that I do end up watching it more often than not. The tweet did have a recommendation about the film Athena which is now freshly streaming on Netflix. To my surprise, there was zero promotion from the OTT giant whereas they do end up promoting some of the most ridiculous content instead of actual gems. The recommendation by Anurag Kashyap was enough and I finished watching Athena last night on Netflix. Is it worth your time, stay tuned.
Story & Screenplay
Athena follows the story of three brothers whose lives turned chaotic following the death of their youngest sibling under unexplained circumstances. The story is powerful and literally throws the audience on the streets of Athena which are filled with chaos and violence in what was an overwhelming experience to say the least. The screenplay at a little over 90 minutes means that you are in the thick of things throughout with little to no respite.
The first thing that I noticed about the drama was the terrific opening sequence which was perhaps one of the best that I have seen this year, maybe even the best if I have to consider a slightly longer period. The terrific one-take sequence just has so much to offer. It begins with an announcement in the background which allows the audience to grasp onto the proceedings instead of spoon feeding them. What seemed like a peaceful protest, soon breaks into chaos and violence in no time. And the scene hasn’t been cut yet. The camera the protestors in fast moving vehicles as they gather arms and fireworks until the entire area is captured. This was the sort of wet dreams which all cinephiles long for! What a cracker of a start!
This is where my skepticism did creep in. After such a terrific start, things often begin to slide. But the writers have done a brilliant job in holding on to the narration beautifully. There is a lot of action thrown in some brilliant set pieces which after a point do seem like poetry in motion. And there are plenty of “smaller” one take sequences which are integrated brilliantly in the narrative. A clever jump in the timelines is also well integrated, a perspective being one of the brothers does meet his mother and after using the flight of stairs, he again sees her in what seemed like a mass migration almost like an exodus.
But the drama is more about the different ideologies which could create a stir in the world. We may have seen it in real life too, something which does trigger a riot in current times. So in the film the three siblings are distinct characters because all of them do have different ideologies which leads to further chaos. While the youngest one is a radical idealist who always thinks that the system cannot change anything, the two elder siblings are different – one has the thought process of going by the book(or in this case sticking to the laws) while the other one is a drug lord who just wants to save his skin or in other words is an opportunist. The friction does arise when their paths cross resulted in a heart wrenching tragedy in their lives as also in the neighbourhood.
The film does fall slightly in the final act which also has an interesting conflict. But the heartbreak is such that it does linger on long after the film has ended. The events leading up to the final act are filled with tension with several fireworks submerging the authorities which would have been a visual spectacle on the big screen. And because there are minimal cuts, you are always there in the drama which also offers a small insight into the victim’s home in a superbly written scene where the two siblings cannot meet eye to eye with one another although their goal is the same. This is a brilliant piece of writing and brilliantly executed in an excellent screenplay.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are minimal yet very effective. In several scenes, the lines just play out in the background which does give a context of why things are happening. This for me was a supremely effective way of communicating things without interfering with the drama which could have disrupted the tension which was generated. The BGM is brilliant and in all honesty enhances the viewing experience by uplifting not only scenes but several sequences. The cinematography is filled with several one takes including the 10 minute spectacular opening sequence and it is remarkable to say the least. The editing is sharp and smooth. The action set pieces are powerful and will set your adrenaline pumping instantly. Director Romain Gavras probably wanted to provide an immersive experience for the audience. And hence he captivates the viewers beautifully leaving them in awe and gasping for breath. His direction is outstanding and deserves distinction points.
The performances are outstanding here. Ouassini Embarek as Moktar is splendid to watch despite a limited screen time. Alexis Manenti as Sebastian is first rate. Anthony Bajon as Jerome oozes of helplessness in a role which is supremely conflicted. His subplot adds a different dimension to the story too. Sami Slimane as Karim is outstanding in his debut venture. Probably the most resolved and ruthless debut that I have seen in years! Dali Benssalah as Abdel is wonderfully restrained in a brilliantly layered character. His character arc is conflicted which makes him a complex character. And his towering act does steal the show!
Athena is one of the best action movies of the year that comes with my highest recommendation. It is rather unfortunate that it comes with zero buzz on an OTT giant that should have marketed the film better. But then a big thank you to Anurag Kashyap for recommending this masterpiece!