Beyond Hatred Review
On 13th September 2002, a young homosexual man, François Chenu, was murdered in a park in Reims, France by three skinheads. The three young men, one of whom was under 16 at the time of the killing, had gone to the Leo Lagrange Park in Rheims with the express intention of “doing an Arab”. Instead, they confronted the young gay man, beat him badly about his face and head and threw him into the river where he drowned. Interviewing the family of the murdered man in the days preceding the trial of the three skinheads two years later, Olivier Meyrou’s documentary film Beyond Hatred is an attempt to understand just what could have motivated such brutality and consider the implications if we fail to learn anything from it.
Dealing with such an emotive issue, it is surprising then the director of the film then does not depend on the conventional documentary techniques that can be used to manipulate the viewer towards a certain way of thinking. There is no narration explaining the background of the case, no dramatic reconstruction of events and – perhaps most surprisingly of all – there is not a single image of François Chenu used throughout the film. Instead Meyrou presents the mother and father of the victim in discussions with their lawyer, with the press and with their other sons and daughters and in this way allows the full impact of what has happened to be understood. From their conversations and their constant attempts to reconstruct what must have taken place, you can tell how deeply it has affected them. And although it is something that they cannot ever know and can never truly comprehend, it’s a necessary journey that they undertake in front of your eyes - a journey to get beyond the hatred they feel, a hatred which can only destroy them as well.
While remaining respectful and never intrusive, Beyond Hatred gets behind the scenes into the personal grief of a family in the in the kind of depth that you don’t ever see in a news report or interviews with victims of families, and never even to this extent in any other documentary. It’s vital however that the film is presented in this way, because the viewer also needs to make a similar journey beyond hatred for the act that has taken place. It’s not enough just to feel disgust or contempt for those who commit or incite racist and homophobic acts – it is necessary to understand where such attitudes come from in order to prevent them from happening again.
Again, this is another area in which Beyond Hatred is an uncommonly brilliant documentary, taking you behind the scenes with the lawyers, the judge, the psychologists, examining the wider social issues, the agendas and methods of far-right extremist groups that the skinheads are associated with, and even allowing time for the families of the accused to reflect on what has happened and try to understand why. The answer of course is impossible to fully understand, let alone address or legislate for. What is important however is the raising of these issues, making people aware, since it is a climate of weakness, fear and ignorance that allows such attitudes to persist. This film plays an important part in that process of educating people and getting beyond the hatred.
Beyond Hatred is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is not region encoded.
Beyond Hatred is presented anamorphically at a ratio of 1.66:1. As a documentary film, it was shot on Super-16, but other than some slight grain being occasionally visible and a lack of refinement in colour tones, this looks as good as could be expected and is very impressive when transferred to DVD. There are no flaws of any kind, the image is clear and sharp, with excellent balance in colour and tone. One scene showed a low level of judder, but this would more than likely be a technical issue during recording and, being a documentary, evidently not something that can be fixed in a re-take. I don’t think anyone will be troubled by this or see any other issues in an almost perfect transfer.
The audio track is presented in its original Dolby Digital 2.0 and, evidently, it is in French. Due to the nature of it being a documentary, the soundtrack is evidently not particularly showy, but dialogue is appropriately toned and always clear. The music score composed for the film is also conveyed very effectively and appropriately mixed.
English subtitles are provided, in a white font, and are optional. They are perhaps a little on the small side and don’t have a strong border, but should be able to be clearly read throughout.
The DVD contains an Interview with the director Olivier Meyrou (17:56), which provides interesting information on how the film came to be made, how he managed to get the Chenu family’s cooperation, and how certain scenes came about. He talks about the technical aspects of the shooting as well as the need for delicacy in the treatment, legally as well as emotionally. The only other extras on the disc are trailers for other Peccadillo Pictures releases.
I would find it hard to give this film anything but the highest recommendation and rating, and isn’t not just because the subject and topic could be deemed “worthy”. More than most serious films or even documentaries, it takes us somewhere and makes us think about the actions of other people in a way that we would never have the opportunity to consider so deeply, since thankfully, few of us would ever have experienced such trauma in our lives. Yet, it is vital that we do understand the full implications of what would otherwise just seem to be just another newsworthy item to momentarily consider. The choices of the director are surprising, refusing to fall back on the conventions that one would expect for a documentary of this kind, but somehow takes us much further into understanding the situation – and more importantly – doing it in a way that it becomes relevant to all of us.