Athena, Greek goddess of warfare and wisdom. A dichotomy at the heart of the new film by French director Romain Gavras (Our day Will Come, The world is yours) which premieres on Netflix Friday, September 23. Athena has been preceded by a flattering reputation since its appearance at the Venice Film Festival. The feature film recounts the burning of a French city, named after the goddess, after the death of one of its young inhabitants in troubled circumstances. It immerses us in a family, bereaved by the loss of the youngest brother, who will implode.
When it was uploaded, the trailer was also criticized by supporters of the National Rally, who inevitably linked the violence to the suburbs. A smell of controversy to which the director is accustomed, but which he refuses to seek. Seen as a “tragedy in the Greek sense of the word”the film nevertheless arrives in a tense social context. “I’m not saying that ‘Athena’ will not be controversialwarns the director to the magazine Premiere. But this polemical spirit was absent from its making. Co-written with Ladj Ly, director of Miserableswhich already recounted the revolt of a city after a police blunder, Athena gives the opportunity to reflect on the career of Romain Gavras.
Romain Gavras, 41, was born in Paris. And if this surname resonates in the ears of moviegoers, it’s normal since Romain is the son of producer Michèle Ray-Gavras and Greek director Costa-Gavras (Z, Confession, Amen…). Difficult to escape the seventh art in this family, since one of his brothers is a producer and his sister a director, like him. “I have an older brother who runs a bed and breakfast. He was saved by the movie gods or the bed and breakfast gods.”he had fun in The Guardian (in English).
“Children build themselves as opposed to something.”Romain Gavras, director
in “The Guardian”
This “son of” label does not bother him. “It’s part of me. On the contrary, it’s a source of pride to be the son of Costa-Gavras. I’ve never seen it as a burden”he assures in an interview for the site Chaosreign. From his father, a political filmmaker, he learned “rigor… And brushing your teeth every morning!”, he laughs in an interview with AFP. He also discovered very early “films that weren’t from [son] age”he says in premiere. Hence a pronounced love in adolescence, as opposed to the paternal, for Bruce Willis and the trilogy diehard.
Romain Gavras grew up in a building in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, where he met his sidekick Kim Chapiron, son of Christian Chapiron, says “Kiki Picasso”, graphic designer and painter. Among the neighbors, Mathieu Kassovitz, who is about to create Métis and Hatredand artist Chris Marker. “This building, which at the time was a bit in the middle of nowhere, is all of our youth. When we started making small films, we used it as a set”says Romain Gavras in The world (paid item).
He was 14 when he discovered the film “Kasso”. “He was the cool neighbor who suddenly made the coolest movie on Earth. It had to completely influence us”he recalls, questioned by Konbini. He even put pressure on his mother, Michèle Ray-Gavras, a member of the Cannes Film Festival jury in 1995, so that the film, which was presented there, does not leave empty-handed. In lipstick, in the bathroom of his mother’s room in Cannes, he had written: “If Mathieu is priceless, there’s no need to go home”she remembers for franceinfo.
Mathieu Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel will take Romain Gavras and his friend Kim Chapiron under their wings, appearing in short films they are directing. “Strangely, I never thought of them as ‘my little ones’remembers “Vinz” of Hatred at Konbini. For me, they were very talented. I think we were supporting each other. Me, of course, I opened doors for them, but they brought me a kind of fresh air and a desire to work.
This is how “Kourtrajmé”, the collective created by Romain Gavras, Kim Chapiron and a childhood friend, Toumani Sangaré is making a name for himself. The trio will soon be joined by Ladj Ly, or the actors Olivier Barthélémy (Our day Will Come), Alexis Manenti (Wretched), journalist Mouloud Achour, photographer JR and rapper Oxmo Puccino. The collective now brings together more than a hundred members and is a “family which dates, friends of thirty years”compares Kim Chapiron in The world.
The first short film to make noise is The goatee which, in 2002, features the Wanted brothers played by Vincent Cassel, Olivier Barthélémy and Marko Payen. It has 1.5 million views on Dailymotion, almost 2 million on YouTube. “An unimaginable success for a video shot in barely two hours with a friend”says its author, Kim Chapiron, in The Parisian.
Years later, the group intends to share their experience with younger generations and created in 2018, the Kourtrajmé film school located in Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis), where Ladj Ly grew up. “We just think that there is talent everywhere and when we train young people in this school, we will benefit from their skills later on.justifies Romain Gavras in First. Those who have not followed a traditional route will offer unique points of view.”
Before rubbing shoulders with feature films, Romain Gavras cut his teeth in advertising and music videos. If his first clip for the Ile-de-France rapper Rocé (Change the world in 2002) goes relatively unnoticed, the one for the group Mafia K’1 Fry will be talked about a lot. For those highlights the rappers Rohff, the 113, Manu Key as much as the inhabitants of the cities of Val-de-Marne. “It was the rap anthem of that time”suggests Romain Gavras in the review Rockyrama. “This clip is as much Kim [Chapiron] and me, than them. We were two little buffoons with cameras, we just said, ‘We want people there’ at some point, and then they brought all their guys back.”
The impact is enormous and is felt as far as the United States where a certain Jay-Z is blown away. Years later, the American rapper and the French director collaborate for the clip of No Church in the Wildtaken from the joint album with Kanye West, Watch The Throne. “The first time I met him, he said to me: ‘You come from France, there is this clip which is crazy that I had seen at the time’. He shows me ‘For those’, I say that we did it. He said to me: ‘Can’t you realize, at the time we were going crazy on this clip'”he tells Telerama.
Nominated for the Grammy Awards for this clip and those of Bad Girls of British pop singer MIA and gosh by British producer Jamie xx, Romain Gavras had less success with Stress of the Justice group. Released in 2008, the music video sparked an outcry. We see a group of teenagers, black and Arab, from the suburbs tumbling into Paris to smash everything. The director had fun with the controversy ten years later.
“I remember that I took malicious pleasure in seeing myself being treated as a facho by ‘Liberation’ and at the same time as an anarchist by ‘Le Figaro’.”Romain Gavras, director
in the magazine “Rockyrama”
Faced with accusations of racism, stigmatization of the suburbs, the French electro-rock group had to publish a press release to explain themselves: “This film was never intended as a stigmatization of the suburbs, as an incitement to violence or, above all, as a covert means of conveying a racist message.” The director, he assured, always Rockyrama, that“between the music, what the clip is, what it provoked, whether it was hate or love, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of”.
Coming to directing with absurd short films, but visually innovative for the time, notably with the use of the “fish-eye”, this wide-angle lens which curves the image, Romain Gavras, like his acolytes Ladj Ly and Kim Chapiron, has always wanted to stand out from a certain French cinema. That’s why Hatred, notably, had such an impact on the trio. “What was striking was his aesthetics, this research in the staging which contrasted with the French cinema of the time”he dissects in Telerama.
“My favorite movies are visual movies where you don’t get a message. You get feelings and emotions through the power of images.”Romain Gavras, director
in “The Guardian”
To write and perform AthenaRomain Gavras fed onpolice violence on the sidelines of demonstrations of “yellow vests”, the rise of the far right, but he defends himself from wanting to convey any message. “I try to convey emotions to the audience, not serve them hashtags like ‘war is bad’, ‘racism is bad'”he analyzes in the magazine Vanity Fair. “I make images, I have no solution. I am not a politicianhe assures AFP. LThe idea is not to have bad guys and good guys, it’s more complex than that.”