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The consequences of ignorance
A UK region 0 DVD review of BEYOND HATRED / AU-DELÀ DE LA HAINE by Slarek
 

On the evening of 13th September 2002 in the French city of Rheims, three skinheads went out for a bit of fun. Their idea of fun. Their plan was to find an Arab and kill him. Fortunately for the local Arabic population, they had no luck. Unfortunately for young, self-assured François Chenu, they decided to target a gay man instead. François was walking in a park, minding his own business, when the three attackedhim. Instead of cowering or running away, he stood up for himself and called them cowards. Their response was to beat him so badly that his sister could later only identify him by his hair extensions. They then threw his unconscious body into a pond and he drowned.

I see no reason to sit on the fence or act all neutral on this. As far as I'm concerned, those who judge people on the basis of their race or sexual preference do so out of ignorance. They may be misinformed, they are almost certainly generalising, but it's ignorance nonetheless. Those who actually claim to hate someone for the same are not just ignorant, they are stupid, and if that hatred mutates into a desire to kill, then you're out of the realms of stupidity and into the psychotic. An individual harbouring such desires is dangerous not just to the unfortunates in their target zone but to society at large. I'm aware that social conditioning and family and peer pressure play their very considerable part, but try telling that to someone whose son or brother has been murdered purely because of the colour of their skin or because they don't fancy women. I hear too many stories of assaults committed by the intolerant, usually in groups, on individuals they despise for being different to them, and it always sickens me.

Filmed two years after François' murder in the run-up to the trial of his three assailants, Olivier Meyrou's compelling and moving documentary makes no attempt to investigate or explain such attitudes or behaviour, concentrating solely on what losing someone to an assault provoked by such attitudes does to the immediate family of the victim. Meyrou's approach is a minimalist one that is nonetheless gripping, intimate, and at times heartbreaking, as his carefully framed camera eavesdrops on conversations held by family members with each other or their lawyer, later expanding to include the legal representatives of both sides and even reporters. In the most gut-wrenching sequence, a single static, late evening shot of the park in which the attack took place is accompanied by the voice of François' sister Isabelle as she recalls her drive to identify a body that she was desperately hoping would not be that of her missing brother, and how she reacted to what she was confronted with. Every held-in-check flicker of emotion and every slow intake of breath tells a story in itself. And it hurts. It hurts because you not only feel for what she went through but because you put yourself in her place, and it would be a heartless viewer who will not by the end of the sequence be imagining how they would react to the prospect of seeing a loved one of their own lying in the morgue at the end of that journey.

Meyrou's purpose here is clear, to reach past that perhaps casual prejudice that prevents a proportion of the straight audience from completely empathising with the plight of a gay victim and instead talk to something that we can all relate to. He asks us directly: how would you feel if this was your son? The unusual decision not to even include a photograph of François (or, as it happens, the three attackers) further focuses our attention on those left behind and on the effect such a loss has on them. François' parents in particular display a dignity and strength I'm not sure I could muster in their situation, their desire to move forward from the negative emotions that the incident has awakened in them reflected in a title that whose sense of hope is both personal and societal.

Beyond Hatred is a sad, upsetting but compellingly made and moving documentary that I can only hope reached its target audience in its native France. As a subtitled foreign language film it is unlikely to be seen here by the very people who would most benefit from watching it, but it is a film I would urge the sympathetic to see, in part to strengthen their resolve to directly combat the sort of prejudice that provides the first stage groundwork for such wretched crimes. And the next time a friend or relative makes an even offhand homophobic remark, sit them down, by force if necessary, and show them this film, so that they might begin to understand what such attitudes, however casually expressed, can ultimately lead to.

sound and vision

The anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer on the Peccadillo disc is for the most part a pleasing one, given that the film was shot on Super-16 in available light and not always ideal conditions. Colours are sometimes a little muted and shadow detail lost when the light levels are low, but elsewhere the image has a very natural look to it, and the level of detail is good throughout. There is inevitable film grain visible on much of the footage, and occasionally there is some visible but rare compression banding on single colour walls.

The French Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is very clear throughout and has a good dynamic range, reflecting some fine location sound recording (conversations held some distance from the camera are cleanly captured) and impressively reproducing the sad strings of François-Eudes Chanfrault's emotionally tuned score.

extra features

Interview with director Olivier Meyrou (17:56)
A very useful interview, conducted in English, in which the director Meyrou outlines the long process of preparing the film and gaining the trust of those involved, explains his reasons for not including pictures of either François or his attackers, and provides a useful postscript to the film's poignant and hopeful final scene. There's plenty more here of interest, and it's a welcome inclusion.

There are also Trailers for a number of other Peccadillo releases.

summary

A powerful and sensitive look at the consequences of hate crime that nonetheless ends on a note of hope, rightly suggesting that hatred and ignorance are not a lifelong trap, but one that anyone can be freed from with understanding and enlightenment. It's a film that deserves to be widely seen, especially by those who unconsciously throw up a mental barrier when words like gay or homophobia are linked to any news story. Recommended.

Beyond Hatred
Au-delà de la haine

France 2005
86 mins
director
Olivier Meyrou

DVD details
region 0 UK
video
1.66:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
France
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with Olivier Meyrou
Trailers
distributor
Peccadillo Pictures
release date
16 April 2007

review posted
21 April 2007