Dir: Olivier Meyrou, France, 85mins
Cast: Jean-Paul Chenu, Marie-Cecile Chenu, Aurelie Chenu
13th September 2002, Leo Lagrange Park, Reim: Skinheads Michael Regnier, Fabian Lavenus and Franck Billette brutally assault openly gay Francois Chenu, dumping him into a nearby river where he drowns. Meyrou’s raw yet empathetic documentary begins 730 days after Francois’s murder and follows the Chenu family and their search for an ever elusive answer to what should be a painfully simple question: Why?
Preparation for the project began through contact with the respective attorneys of both sides. The Chenu’s became involved a year later. Without their direct interaction it would be hard to envisage Meyrou’s film as conforming to nothing more than a traditional, signposted talking heads format, bulked out with factual, political and social assumptions, but crucially lacking the requisite central figures. The full co-operation of the latter enables a dignified and frank portrait of the grieving process to be gradually unveiled.
Beyond Hatred’s most affecting moments centre around the three family principles, father Jean-Paul, mother Marie-Cecile and sister Aurelie. Meyrou’s relaxed, unobtrusive style grants his candid subjects room to breathe and explore a complex mixture of emotions, a self-cathartic journey from confusion and anger through to remarkable forgiveness. Amidst these heavy dialogue scenes, there are sequences of nuanced, haunting lyricism. Time-lapse photography of the park where the incident occurred are recurrent, people obliviously going about their everyday business, Aurelie’s narration recounting how she learnt of Francois death and broke the news to her parents.
The opening lines of the film illustrate perfectly the humanistic ethos of the Chenu’s and the tone that runs throughout the piece. Over shots of Jean Paul playing in the snow with his grandchildren, he states “It’s a failure of the society I live in and am part of, because I am part of it”. Access to the accused was not possible but a delicate balance is struck through interviews with Billette’s father, auntie and the group of defence attorneys. A deftly sketched portrait emerges of dysfunctional family units and lost souls whose misplaced abhorrence, born out of circumstances derived from their working class environment, is harnessed to and exploited by far right political movements such as Bruno Megret’s National Republican Movement.
Francois remains somewhat enigmatic throughout the film. A sense of character is never presented and no pictures of him used. This is a deliberate measure and one of Meyrou’s greatest virtues, a refusal to use sexuality as an overriding issue to launch a moralistic crusade, a venture that in-turn would have placed the departed into a victim category. On that September evening anyone of a particular ethnic or political persuasion would have found themselves facing a similar fate. Homophobia was not the basis for this act. An amalgamation of disillusionment fused with class and politics formed the genesis of this social void. It is this compassionate tone that reverberates most pertinently in Beyond Hatred through to a truly moving coda of sincere absolution.