Judge Brett Cullum takes a look at a hard hitting documentary about hate and forgiveness.
…lies the path to forgiveness.
Beyond Hatred is a French documentary, intriguing more for what it doesn't do than what it does. The subjects are a family whose son has been murdered, and his assailants are just coming to trial two years later. In 2002, three skinheads went to a public park to kill an Arab, but instead they came across a 29-year-old proud gay man named Francois Chenu. While taunting about his sexuality, the three men viciously beat him, knocked him unconscious, and left him in a fountain to drown. This film never shows us Francois or his killer, but instead makes us witness what his family goes through as they prepare for the trial. We see meetings with lawyers, conversations about how they feel, and their narration of the act while displaying peaceful images of the park where their family member was killed. We get to see a mother and father numb with pain, and a sister who grapples with the idea her brother was violently taken from her. There are many sequences where the mother and father are presented with cold hard facts by their chain smoking attorney, and then we witness them being interviewed by the lawyers of the three attackers.
There are no editorial remarks or tricky editing, simply the facts of the case and the story as told by the family and legal advisors. French documentarian Olivier Meyrou is showing us a "verite" piece, one that does not sensationalize its subject. It is a direct contrast to what is popular currently in America, with people like Michael Moore giving us Fahrenheit 9/11 or Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. We never see the filmmaker or hear his opinion, and he lets the subjects provide all the drama with their observations and what they go through. It is a powerful film, made all the more stunning because it refuses to do much more than observe without comment.
First Run Features presents this film in six chapters with no extras. It's a little puzzling when Beyond Hatred has been released before with interviews with the director for its UK and European release, but here Stateside it is bare bones. The 1.66:1 picture is letter boxed in to a full screen image. The transfer is quite clear, although the varying filming conditions provide different qualities in color and grain. The soundtrack is in Dolby Stereo, and conveys the French dialogue clearly. White English subtitles provide us the translations. It is admirable to release this film on DVD, I just wish it had a little more supplemental material to accompany it.
The inescapable question the experience of Beyond Hatred raises is, what if this were your son or brother? Could you forgive, or would you need to rebuild your life on the strength of hatred? The film shows us what happens when hate goes too far, and becomes a strong statement about prejudice and homophobia. It also is an examination of the horror a family goes through as they face the unthinkable. At the same time it also illustrates the incredible capacity for understanding. It's an extremely hard watch, but it does exactly what all good documentaries do. Beyond Hatred forces the viewer to examine them self, and ask hard questions without any easy answers. It's a quiet film with a lot to say, and it says it very well.
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