Verite docu "Beyond Hatred" movingly accompanies the family of Francois Chenu, a gay man murdered by three skinheads in 2002, down the road to forgiveness. French docmaker Olivier Meyrou ("Bye Bye Apartheid") unearths charged drama by watching interplay among Chenu's parents and siblings, the family of the accused and the attorneys involved. Bookings from docu, gay and human-rights fests should follow the pic's Berlin screening, with boutique theatrical distribution distinctly possible in Gaul and beyond.
Through conversations observed between Francois' parents, schoolteacher Jean-Paul and hospital caregiver Marie-Cecile Chenu, the family's chain-smoking femme lawyer and others, the main facts of the case gradually emerge. The attackers (never seen in the docu) went to Leo Legrange Park in Rheims, France, looking for an Arab to beat up. When they didn't find one, they turned on Francois who, when asked, admitted he was gay. They beat him unconscious, and thinking he was already dead, tried to hide his body by throwing it in a pond where he drowned.
Point of the film is not to explore the homophobic attack itself, but its aftermath. Core arc concerns Chenu family's feelings as they evolve from anger and despair toward an almost saintly recognition of how the killers' own deprived backgrounds led them to this horrible act. The father of one of the killers, an alcoholic who tried to destroy evidence, and another attacker's aunt, are also interviewed and treated with the same even-handed sympathy by the filmmakers.
Viewers expecting daytime-TV style histrionics from such emotive material will be struck by the quiet, contained dignity of Chenu's family, none of whom ever raises his or her voice.
Film requires auds not just to look but to listen, and deploys sound in an imaginative and exemplary way. For instance, in one bravura sequence, Francois' sister Aurelie's offscreen voice is heard calmly recounting how she suspected that an unidentified corpse reported in the news might be her brother. She relates how she then viewed his body at the morgue, while a long static shot of the park where the murder took place unspools, backed by Francois Eudes Chanfrault's sparse, sorrowful, string-based score.
Helmer Meyrou and his crew are invisible in classic verite style, and refuse to spell things out via explanatory subtitles or narration. Auds must infer from the dialogue who is who, what's going on during the trial, and what some of the French legal jargon means. The austerity of Meyrou's approach may curb the pic's potential for North American sales, but impress crix and fest programmers with astringent tastes.
Camera (color, 16-mm-to-35mm), Jean Marc Bouzou; editor, Cathie Dambel; music, Francois-Eudes Chanfrault; sound, Sebastien Savine, Yolande Decarsin, Gildas Mercier. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 14, 2006. Running time: 90 MIN.