Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beyond Hatred (2005): Removing the Core

The scene of the crime...maybe?
Beyond Hatred (2005)
dir: Olivier Meyrou

In American society, there has been a movement to eradicate the names of the criminals in order to focus on the crimes without creating a cult of celebrity. It challenges that the names of the various killers are more famous than the victims of the crimes, and that the fame that surrounds these claims makes being a criminal more desirable, as the crime will be forever attached to your name.

In Beyond Hatred, Olivier Meyrou has eliminated the last names of the criminals from the crime in order to focus more on the crime and the emotions of the aftermath.

The crime? Three French skinheads killed a gay guy in a park. They beat him severely, mostly in the face, then, thinking he was dead, threw him over a bridge into a pond. The victim was Francois Chenu, age 29.

Meyrou starts the story 2 years after the crime. He doesn't reveal what the crime is for a little while. He doesn't reveal who is speaking, ever. No names or titles are ever used in the film. And, the whole film is designed in order to focus on the family and the aftermath. Meyrou doesn't even focus on the victim, giving his life little more notice than stating he was out and proud, and called his attackers cowards as he was being beaten. There isn't much time for memories. Nor even who Francois Chenu was.

Meyrou nebulizes the case into a generic story in an attempt to make this about every homosexual and every Arab and every non-Skinhead who was ever attacked, beaten, or killed in France. Meyrou is attempting to show the emotional wreckage such a savage crime causes in a family.

Unfortunately, it is somewhat misguided as sometimes you wonder whether the cute guy sitting next to the woman who may be the lawyer is actually Francois' brother. Or, if you're listening to a reporter, a psychologist, or the prosecutor. Sometimes it takes very careful reading (listening if you know French) in order to discern who you are talking to at any given moment, which is completely disconcerting as you miss some of the conversation while you're trying to figure out why this person is talking, and how they fit in.

The crime seemed to be a generic crime. Three skinhead youth out looking for trouble and found it. But, Meyrou isn't concerned about the youth. Nor does he care about their life much, outside from they fell in with the wrong crowd, and one has a couple of terrible parents who also served time because of the crime. Meyrou doesn't care much about the whys of the crime, nor about its continuous proliferation in France.

Instead, Meyrou cares about the family. They tell the stories they have in their head of how the night went. Francois' sister talks about how she received 2 text messages from Francois the night of his death. She talks about how his boyfriend called her that night saying Francois never called, then never came home when he was going to a few days later. I don't think we ever meet the boyfriend either. His devastation is never known. Just the family of Francois.

The final product of Beyond Hatred is supposed to be cathartic and sad. There are several times, moreso early on, where Meyrou has let the long pauses play out to the point where the movie is almost dead. When the sister is describing the crime, there is a full minute where only five sentences are said. Short sentences. Then, there are the heavy handed cues of strings that happen in the first third of the movie that luckily don't carry over into the trial.

Beyond Hatred is a subject that deserves a defter, lighter, touch. How does a family go from losing their child in an act of violence and move past it? Even after the trial has sent away the criminals. Moving past is a necessity, but how? But, Meyrou barely even addresses that, jumping from the end of the trial to 6 months later with an open letter from the parents to the criminals. Of course, that may be because of the parents' wish to not be followed by cameras every few days or weeks, and to grieve in private. Understandable, but the final feature suffers greatly from it.

In the end, Beyond Hatred suffers from pacing problems, a lack of basic understanding on the rules of filmmaking, severe editing issues, talking head syndrome, and a confused focus that doesn't follow through on any of its topics. There are many different approaches one could have taken with Beyond Hatred, but hearing the stories third hand was not the best approach.

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