A review of "Beyond Hatred"

by on Wednesday, 26 January 2011 Comments
A documentary by Olivier Meyrou, France, 2005
 

This French documentary discussed the murder of a 29 year old gay man by three skinheads in Rheims, France. It was interesting in that it worked in a distinct way from the way events such as this are normally covered by the press or in other films that portray the events as they happen like the melodramatic Matthew Shepard Story or Prayers For Bobby that intentionally pull on heart strings for a big impact. The more introspective style of the documentary started 780 days after the death of Francois Chenu, and focused on the journey of the parents and the siblings of Francois as they reluctantly let go of their anger towards the perpetrators, and faced them in court to hear their testimony and defense. The documentary portrayed brilliantly the very banal nature of the proceedings surrounding the trial, and the way in which the grief played out for each member of the family. It cuts through the performative rhetoric of the victim, that one sees already polished whether in press releases and or in lawyer's prepared statements, by showing us the emotive discussion and preparation, even debate over a single word in the prepared statement. In this way the audience is brought to the realization that the strong face that the family show under the spotlight in the documentary is revealed to be more complex.

 
I thought one scene was particularly interesting, in which the mother tells the camera that some part of her does not want to confront the perpetrators, because she knows when she sees them her anger will be dissipated by hearing of their deprived background, and the anger and rage will be diluted by pity or a desire to comprehend. She felt that, by the very fact of communicating and talking about the case, she was being dragged forward to a more rational place than the pure desire for vengeance. She realises the necessity of moving forward but is reluctant to leave that state of mind.
 

During the trial in the film, the audience observes that the family are torn by their rational democratic and humanistic principles and horror at the loss of someone they love at the hands of imbeciles. The better angels of their nature draw them to sympathize with the destitution of the perpetrators' lives, and the irresponsible actions and indifference of the parents of the accused.

 

Another interesting aspect to the trial was that the youngest perpetrator's legal representative was a Frenchman of "Arabic" descent. Given that the skinhead gang was intensely anti-Arab (one of their friends had pushed an Arab into the Seine where he then drowned), I thought it was extremely interesting to see how much the lawyer was involved with the young man and how much he pushed for leniency towards him. I also thought that his frank discussion with the family and about the remorse (or lack of) felt by the boys was incredibly powerful in that he was able to acknowledge their grief and appealed to their conscience at the same time, which he was able to do in part, because of his ethnic origin. During this discussion we can recognise the family's internal struggle, in that they want to know how to forgive, but are unsure of the remorse of the skinheads.

 
The whole structure of the courtroom and the way the case was handled, gave a lie to the way that these things are represented on television. The grief shouldered by relations of the victims as they go through proceedings makes all the little details and the minutiae of the law heavy with melancholy. There are several shots of office spaces, and corridors, which in their dreariness, replace the dramatics of the murder with the dull realization of the reality of this kind of loss.
 

In contrast to more traditional media outlets, the focus on the film, was on those left behind, and the grief and justice process. Francois never appears in the film, nor do the aggressors, or any photos of the violence committed. In this way, we stand in the place of the parents, who are left imagining the pain that their son went through, but the film ends with an open letter to the perpetrators. It is hard to know how the family's actions are perceived by the killers, and at times the family seems worried that they are laughing at the liberal values of the family that compel them to get involved in the lives of the attackers rather than maintaining distance.

 
Definitely worth watching 4/5
 
Below is the open letter to their son's killers:
 

Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Born in Belfast. Just finished his Master from the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at National Taiwan University (NTU). Currently lives and works in Taipei. 

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