Beyond Hatred
(Au Dela de la Haine)

First Run Features

Olivier Meyrou

Unrated, 85 minutes

Family Values
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted Online, August 2008

Beyond Hatred is a remarkable 2005 French documentary that examines a tragic gay bashing and its aftermath. Francois Chenu was in the wrong place at the wrong time when three vicious skinheads were "cruising" Leo Lagrange Park in Rheims, looking for an Arab to assault. When they couldn't find one, they decided that a fag would do just as well and beat young Francois into unconsciousness before throwing him into a pond where he drowned.

Filmed in cinema-verite style, director Olivier Meyrou allows the facts to gradually reveal themselves. Unlike crime shows on cable television, the principals are not identified, there is no explanatory narration, the camera does not intrude into the courtroom, and there are no sensational re-enactments. Instead, Meyrou aspires to capture something more visceral on celluloid. His camera eavesdrops on discussions between the attorneys, social workers and, most importantly, documents the Chenu family's sorrow and their noble, yet frustrated, attempts to understand how the killers' racist and xenophobic upbringings could result in such pointless, and hate-fueled, violence.

A complex family portrait is captured. Grief co-exists with rage, yet they comprehend, for example, when a psychologist provides this chilling explanation of the skinheads' motives: "They're done up like warriors and someone calls them cowards. They think they're supermen and think [Francois] is subhuman. Yet he called them cowards... One of them said 'he insulted us' and I think it was the worst insult they could hear because they thought they were supermen."

But, despite their willingness to listen, the Chenus are not Mother Theresa. "I'd like to have retained my anger forever, "the mother remarks at one point. Ponder too the sister's anger after hearing the courtroom defense. "I can't accept that asshole putting on a 45-minute show!" she snarls, "I know they have to defended. It's one of our freedoms, and part of our law, and we'd be like them if we didn't allow that." But where is their remorse? she asks. Powerful scenes like this permeate the film. Emotions are raw, yet the ending can almost be called uplifting when Francois' parents write a letter to the killers in prison, bestowing far more compassion than the letter's recipients showed their son. "You denied his humanity," they write, "thus betraying your own."
Aside from a few photographs, Francois - like Matthew Shepard in The Laramie Project - does not appear in the film, nor is his killing staged for the cameras. Meyrou's approach engages the theater of the mind. Consider this lengthy scene: Francois' sister is allowed a long monologue during which she recounts reading in the papers that a young man was found beaten to death in Rheims. She drove there, knowing in her gut that it's her brother, and discovered that she was correct. She then describes his attack. Her speech, pregnant with long pauses, is accompanied by a static, unbroken shot of the empty park where her brother was killed. (See picture at top of essay.) Occasionally a jogger or two runs by, and it grows dark in the last minutes. A more conventional director might have added flashes of violence but this minimalist approach forces the mind to create its own images. The effect is more powerful than any re-enactment could ever be.
There are many similar scenes in Beyond Hatred, and these are contrasted with several wordless sequences in which the images speak for themselves. In one, the father just stares into space, his face pained, followed by a close-up of the sister; she is in the shower, her eyes are closed, and water runs down her face. In another, the mother paces back and forth while working in the kitchen. There is a chilling moment near the end when the father of one of the killers walks out from the courtroom and past everyone without a word, looking very small, and insignificant, as he descends the stairs on his crutches.

There are questions but no answers. Two worlds meet in the courtroom but in the end there is no closure. There will always be hatred but director Meyrou documents that there is also hope when the victims try to look past the emnity and show compassion. And goodness knows, we need more of that in the world today. Beyond Hatred is both a chilling, and inspiring, film. In French, with English subtitles.


Beyond Hatred is a First Run Features release.
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