Athena: Romain Gavras and his actors recount the shooting of the Netflix sensation film

Not only Athena is a superb cinema film, of incredible power, but it also succeeds in its bet to represent the city, a space prone to all the stereotypes and deadly fantasies of French cinema, under a new eye specific to fiction. “With production designer Arnaud Roth, we wanted the city to look like a fortified castle and we built parapets. As if the film takes place in the Middle Ages or in ancient Greece.” The filmmaker is also pleased to have been able to count on the confidence of the inhabitants and the municipality, who attended the filming. “People saw the film building as it went along. We shot the sequence shots in chronological order. At the beginning, some looked at us like earthenware dogs. Then, everyone realized that we were doing something a little out of the ordinary, which went beyond the simple news item. The discovery ofAthena is all the more moving when we know that part of the buildings that served as decorations will soon be destroyed. The film only appears more spectral and melancholy.

Behind the filmmaker’s vision, there are also actors to embody it. And breathtaking performances, Athena overflows. Dali Benssalah was the first to join Romain Gavras in this tour de force. Since his notable stint as a James Bond villain in Dying can wait, the actor has settled into the cinematographic landscape and is gradually climbing the ladder. His name is now enough to attract the attention of producers. “My experience on James Bond taught me not to be too impressed by big productions. Technically, it was going all over the place, for more than seven months. It never stopped. You have to quickly accept that the big means are out.”

In Athena, he embodies Abdel, the big brother who intends to bring peace to this city in turmoil. It is largely him that the spectator will follow in order to understand why the situation has deteriorated so quickly. “The film is both a fable and a Greek tragedy”, sums up the 30-year-old actor. The one who began his career in the theater also says he was touched by the “Shakespearean aspect” of the scenario. “Brotherly love is something that touches me a lot. There were so many things to play. It was a pleasure to dive into that.” More than the technical challenge, it’s an opportunity to give yourself entirely to the filmmaker and the script that seduced Dali Benssalah. He remembers the intensity of each take, those that forced him to lie down on the tarmac to regain his senses, and the spirit of camaraderie that remained, despite the project and its excessiveness. “We were all on the same boat and we wanted to moor in the right port. In the best possible way.”

Ouassini Embarek. Jacket, shirt and pants, Kenzo. Shoes, Loewe.© Arnaud Pyvka