Beyond Hatred

Beyond Hatred


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The murder of François Chenu took place in 2002. His assailants were not known to him. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A group of skinheads, obsessed by far right propaganda, had gone to the park with the intention of 'doing an Arab'. Instead they found François. Beating him unconscious, they threw him into a pond to drown. Their crime was soon discovered and they were arrested. The trial took place two years later. But for François' family, the struggle goes on.

Beyond Hatred is at once a small, intimate documentary portrait of that family's struggle and a bold attempt to move beyond our usual way of looking at crimes of this sort. It follows the family's efforts to get beyond their initial emotional responses to what has happened and achieve some sort of understanding. François' mother comments that her experience showed her a whole new side of herself, demonstrating that she was as capable of vicious violence as the murderers. Her willingness to be open about this and to share her anger as well as her pain makes her story far more potent than the usual presentations of victimhood. The family are not seeking simply to forgive or to rise above what has happened to them. They are trying to comprehend the difference between their world and one in which an act of this sort could be conscionable.

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It's fortunate that this story doesn't centre on the search for forgiveness, because there's limited room for it, at least in the immediate term. The three men on trial for François' murder show little in the way of repentance and it's difficult to be sure if they fully understand the nature of what they did. The film makes some effort to explain their socially disadvantaged backgrounds and experiences of violence, yet doesn't permit this to be used as an excuse. It isn't, ultimately, their story. Probably the most potent part of it is the simple narrative delivered by François' sister about the weekend of his disappearance: worried calls from his boyfriend, reading about murder in the newspaper, traveling to Rheims to see the police, being shown photographs, recognising his badly beaten head only by his hair extension. The quiet sorrow of her account is the sort of thing which really might make people think twice about going out to beat up strangers, though it seems unlikely that such people will watch this film.

Beyond Hatred isn't a flawless piece of film making. Its minimalist visuals sometimes grow too obscure, its subtitles are unreliable and its soundtrack is intrusive; but in some ways the amateurishness of this only adds to its potency. It remains tightly focused on the personalities of those involved, forcing us to see the murder less in terms of political issues and more specifically as a human matter. The one voice which is lacking, of course, is François' own; even as we get to know his family, he remains a stranger to us. As such, the message of the film is not so much that we should feel sad that a nice man has died, but that we should be aware of the magnitude of the murder of anyone, aware of the impossibility of summing up a stranger under a banner of prejudice. There's a Capote-like quality to this which enables this modest film to punch well above its weight.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2007
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A documentary portrait of a family's experiences following the homophobic murder of their son.
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Director: Olivier Meyrou

Writer: Olivier Meyrou

Year: 2005

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: France


London 2006

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