Athena: Romain Gavras’ New Movie About France’s Warfare on the Banlieues
The French filmmaker and pop provocateur talks about Athena, his explosive new drama which recasts powder-keg tensions within the Paris banlieues as Greek tragedy
Throughout Romain Gavras’ oeuvre, violence ignites just like the crack of flint and swells throughout the display like a bloom of smoke. Having reduce his tooth directing for the likes of MIA and Jay Z, Gavras’ early music movies are shot by with a cinematic, violent lyricism that mediates on the potent energy of image-making, from the provocative viscera of Born Free to the delirious anarchy of No Church within the Wild. “They’re virtually like poems, music movies,” Gavras says. “Whereas a movie is sort of a novel.”
Athena, Gavras’ third narrative function, is a direct inheritor to his preliminary music video days, the intricate epic to his earlier verses. Telling the story of three brothers – navy man Abdel, rebel Karim and petty crime boss Moktar – after their youngest brother, Idir, is killed following an altercation with the police, Athena is a movie of staggering propulsion, monitoring the civil conflict between police and civilians that breaks out within the household’s banlieue of Athena. Right here, we converse with Gavras in regards to the grandeur of tragedy, the French impulse towards revolutionary artwork, and the unequivocal politics of aesthetic filmmaking.
Anahit Behrooz: Athena appears like a typical banlieue drama however it’s really an extremely epic and mythic movie. What was it about mythology that felt proper for telling this story?
Romain Gavras: I wrote Athena with my good friend Ladj Ly, who directed Les Misérables, and from the start our concept was to create not social realism however a Greek tragedy. Greek tragedy has unity of time and unity of location, however it additionally conveys concepts by the ability of developing a picture. It’s all the time about grand issues – blood, fireplace, nation. The concept was to have the intimate ache of those three brothers and [to see] this rage spill over right into a nation that burns off-screen. They turn out to be mythological archetypes within the sense that, with a hearth, there are solely 3 ways to cope with it. Both you’re a service provider attempting to guard your pursuits, otherwise you need the hearth to cease, otherwise you need to burn every thing down.
AB: On the identical time, Athena feels very French, not a lot due to the banlieue setting however due to France’s custom – from Victor Hugo to Delacroix – of creating artwork about revolution.
RG: My director of pictures Matias Boucard and I, our references have been every thing from movies to Delacroix work – like [in the first scene], when the children are holding a French flag on prime of a van. We needed an power that’s virtually uplifting as a result of each revolution begins like that: with a second of grace and enthusiasm. However then the blood begins to move and the tears begin to run and the partitions begin to burn. In France, we’re taught solely the nice points of the French revolution, however it grew to become an insane massacre. It’s a must to have that romantic really feel after which get darker. It’s like a motion in direction of chaos.
AB: A lot of Athena is about this ethical ambiguity. I’m curious the way it was to craft that inside constructions which might be typically unambiguously unhealthy, such because the police industrial advanced?
RG: To say the police are unhealthy and the youth are good, to have these very schematic visions, is I feel solely the varnish of the scenario. On the finish of the day, particularly in France, there’s a number of police brutality – it’s why a scenario like in Athena is feasible. Nevertheless it’s doable to benefit from a scenario that’s tense. There are all the time forces pushing in direction of that battle: police versus younger individuals is what you see on the bottom, however it’s often the results of darker forces.
AB: By darker forces, do you imply structural techniques?
RG: I feel constructions but in addition pursuits. Each conflict for the reason that Trojan conflict has been based mostly on a lie, from Archduke Franz Ferdinand to Colin Powell exhibiting the faux vial [to the UN security council] that pulled us into conflict in Iraq. It’s individuals with an agenda which might be pushing individuals on the bottom to combat, and I feel [Athena] additionally touches on that. How does a scenario like this ignite? When a rustic could be very fragile, like France, it’s very simple for individuals to make use of that chaos to push it into the bottom.
AB: Early on within the movie, you introduce the concept it may have been a far-right fringe group somewhat than the police that killed Idir. Was this concept of exterior management what prompted this narrative shift?
RG: Yeah, I imply, all through the movie you see police violence and it’s in all our minds that it exists, however it’s simple for individuals who need extra chaos to thrive in a scenario like this. That’s to not say the police are good – it’s extra that, in an already tense scenario the place there was police misconduct and brutality, individuals can [build] on that. It’s occurring throughout Europe and particularly in France, we virtually had an excessive right-wing president within the final election. You possibly can actually really feel that there’s a push in direction of this – it belongs to their strategies as nicely.
AB: You might have a extremely distinctive visible type throughout your work. There could be a tendency when speaking about extremely stylised filmmaking to think about aesthetic as antithetical to which means – critics typically say Sofia Coppola is all type and no substance. What can such filmmaking obtain that extra realist approaches can’t?
RG: The factor is, there are a number of realist movies that I really like however in France, there’s this concept that if a movie has a powerful iconography, it’s vulgar. However my favorite movies, from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran to Apocalypse Now, have a powerful visible id. Such as you say about Sofia Coppola, her movies are wonderful as a result of it’s type merging with substance and that is what cinema does: we’re speaking in pictures. In any other case, we will write books. That’s to not dismiss individuals who do cinema verité, however particularly when the intention is a tragedy – horses and choir music and every thing – it’s bizarre to be like, ‘That is excessive.’
AB: You spoke earlier of actions in direction of chaos and I’m questioning if there’s something optimistic in addition to pessimistic in that? A lot of this movie is in regards to the aesthetics of anger, and anger might be productive.
RG: I don’t know. The traditional Greeks stated of tragedy that it was cathartic to see darker visions of the close to future unfold. I don’t know if that works. I feel to see a imaginative and prescient full of rage and to see the place violence can lead… It may possibly make you assume, however I don’t know if there’s a constructive message on the finish.
AB: It’s so attention-grabbing that you just’re proof against catharsis regardless that it’s one of many important tenets of tragedy.
RG: Precisely. However we don’t know that it really works: we have now tragedy and the world has nonetheless turn out to be worse. Sadly, I don’t assume artwork can change the world, you recognize.
AB: In any respect?
RG: Nicely, yeah. I feel our obligation as artists is to feed individuals’s eyes and coronary heart and soul with new methods of telling a narrative, however our obligation is to artwork. It’s like when individuals say video video games and rap are making children violent. I don’t assume they’re: it’s lack of cash, schooling. Nevertheless it works the identical the opposite approach. I’m all the time on the fence once I see filmmakers being self-righteous and saying: ‘Yeah, that is going to vary the world.’ It’s blood and fireplace and tears that really modifications the world.
Athena is out on Netflix now.