Last Updated on September 3, 2022
The new Netflix film Athena centers on a Paris housing project comprised of predominantly African and Arab migrants who rise up against the French police and government following a police incident similar to the death of George Floyd. The migrants are depicted as heroes rising up against the racist French police. During its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Athena received a lengthy standing ovation.
According to Vulture.com, the main character is a soldier named Abdel who learns that his 13-year-old brother has been killed at the hands of the police in the opening moments of the film. A gathered crowd of foreigners — who reside in a public housing building — soon becomes violent and begins throwing Molotov cocktails at police. The mob soon overruns the police and manages to secure a stockpile of guns and ammunition before torching a besieged police station.
“It’s still the first shot of the movie. The van, filled with gleeful kids, speeds down the highway, flanked by motorcycles popping triumphant wheelies and bystanders cheering in solidarity,” reads Bilge Ebiri’s review with Vulture. “The camera spins all around them as the kids wave the French flag and chant the name of their housing project, which has now become to them both a nation and a joyous symbol: “Ath-e-na, Ath-e-na, Ath-e-na!”
The group of migrants — now organized into a paramilitary force — soon return to the housing project and begin to fortify it.
Film critics have heaped praise upon the film for its “anti-racist” message. At its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the film received a four-and-a-half minute standing ovation. “The French film had people applauding and whooping from the start of the end credits before the crowd stood for the ovation,” wrote Nancy Tartaglione of Deadline.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Athena director Romain Gavras said the idea of the film was focusing on “the idea of being inside the sparkle of what could become the first blaze that would spread through a country like a donation.”
“At some point, darker forces are required to push a society to war. And I feel that in France, that exists,” Gavras went on to say. “Right now, extreme right-wing forces are the ones pushing toward that agenda. My feeling was that we live in a time when information is so confusing. Throughout the film, you hear the news saying something, and the kids are not believing it, because there is such a disbelief and suspicion of information in general.”
In a separate interview with Deadline, Gavras described Athena as ““a story of brotherhood and this familial violence that is going to overflow the neighborhood and then the country. In civil wars, it’s that: brother against brother, family against family and then nation against nation.”
Athena is scheduled for a September 23 premiere on Netflix.