Athena's Modern War Epic Against Police Brutality Is Incredible, Furious Spectacle

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A Molotov-flinging, riot shield-dropkicking, wheelie-popping war epic between the people and the police state, Athena is relentless, operatic action. JacobOller's review:

for “No Church in the Wild” with Molotovs, stolen police horses and dropkicked riot shields—visual motifs of protest heroics—and the only thing that’s changed is our familiarity with the aftermath. The rage behind these images still burns, but we know the cold comfort left behind when the embers are finally stomped out. Yet, the only thing to do is light the blaze again, which Gavras does in the riveting, vital.

The warzone is Athena, a French housing project, where tragedy has assembled a community, grown from a family. Idir, 13 and the youngest of four brothers—Karim , Abdel and Moktar —has been beaten to death by police. Someone recorded it on their phone. But we find this out in sprinkled bits of exposition, blown to confetti and wafting through the smoke-filled air. Our immediate attention is on Karim, leading a tracksuited pack of neighbors and like-minded young people, raiding a police station.

The opening scene, the first of many incredible feats of planning, camerawork and drone operation, will make you vibrate through your seat. Gavras shoots long tracking shots like caffeine straight into your eyes: Painfully energizing.’s opening is one of the year’s best, a piece of relentless, fist-pumping, jaw-clenching, goosebumping action that doesn’t stop until you’re fully radicalized.

This gives way, as military veteran Abdel slowly takes the lead, to a tighter and more contained frame. The swirling, unblinking camera takes in the chaotic circus—motorcycle wheelies and a neverending fireworks show;in Cabrini-Green—until it ages before our eyes, staring, half-lidded, into the bloodshot gazes of men who understand the world just a little bit better. We get the sense that Abdel’s seen shit. Been in it. Been numbed by it.

 

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