The Daily Stream: Athena Is Romain Gavras' Stunning Feature Length Manifesto For The Oppressed

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Athena"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: In a French banlieue, a young Algerian boy named Idir has been murdered by police in an unexplained but racially motivated event. His killing will send the neighborhood, known as Athena, into absolute disorder, with his three brothers — Abdel, a decorated soldier in the French army; Karim, an anarchist community leader; and Moktar, a local drug dealer — at the forefront of the impending chaos.

Why it's essential viewing

One of the most magical things about creative works — movies, but books, fine art, and music, too — is how the artist chooses to draw you into their world initially. A good beginning is enough to make anyone interested in pretty much anything, and it can truly be the key to expanding your audience and opening minds that may have previously been closed off. This wouldn't be the first one of that stature, but the opening sequence of "Athena," which is roughly around 10 minutes long, is some of the most compelling, high-octane footage from any film ever. It sounds like high praise, and when people who saw the film before I did — it's a regret of mine for not making it to a screening at Venice this year — said things like that, I figured it was an exaggeration.

The film takes place in the direct aftermath of Idir's killing, which sets us dead center within the unrest as soon as it starts to ripple out from within the community's main group of scorned individuals, Idir's family. It's the perfect groundwork for a larger-than-life film, one that gets to the heart of its politics while also hitting larger themes that are universally relatable to the human spirit. The opening sets the stage for a major emotional upheaval within the audience, and there's no stopping this story's effect. It is beyond memorable — oh, and it's filmed in one long take.

Gavras as a filmmaker

When you watch this film, especially taking in the cold open, you might feel like it has a familiar tone, you know, aside from it being generally topical and current in what it explores. Well, that's because director Romain Gavras is also responsible for the well-known Jay Z and Kanye West music video "No Church in the Wild," as well as the visual for M.I.A's practically legendary hit "Bad Girls." Both videos take the viewer to places they may not have ever really gone, with "No Church in the Wild" clearly the early brainchild of what "Athena" would become in how it highlights the oppressed in a time of unrest.

This film is a successor that makes sense, and it allows Gavras to expand on the stories that could have lived within the images he showed us in "No Church" — and the filmmaker certainly upped his game for the feature. It is stunning and unforgettable, even despite its narrative issues as the movie moves forward. The film's problems don't outweigh its positives, and all of the incredible things about it — the opening, the acting, the intensity, the heart — make it a must-see.