It's so rare these days to see a documentary that aspires to be cinematic that Beyond Hatred may seem at first to be slightly better than it is. Director Olivier Meyrou follows the family of 29-year-old murder victim François Chenu, who was beaten to death in a Reims park in 2002 by three skinheads who'd planned to "do an Arab" and settled on a homosexual. As the trial approaches three years later, Chenu's parents and sister try to recall what living through the aftermath of the murder was like, so they can be effective witnesses in court. In one masterful sequence, Chenu's sister recounts in voiceover the details of how she heard about the crime, while Meyrou holds on a lengthy static shot of the now-tranquil-looking park, washed in a light rain. Later, Meyrou shoots the lawyers in truncated close-ups that emphasize their hands or their paperwork, while he shoots the victim's family in medium-to-long shots that show life going on around them.
Visually, Beyond Hatred is precise, handsome—even brilliant. But it falls a little short emotionally. It's unfair to criticize the reactions of people who've been through a tragedy—or really even to blame the institutions charged with dispassionately adjudicating one—but because everyone in front of the camera is so inclined to be analytical, Beyond Hatred winds up consisting of a lot of talk about how people should feel about what happened, without much of the actual feeling. Meyrou gets more out of the particulars of the process, like when he watches the attorneys debate what kind of charge to go for, or when he catches a radio reporter preparing for her trial update with an unintentionally flip, "This is a 40-second spot."
Maybe the problem is that Meyrou arrived on the scene too late. At one point, Chenu's sister describes how her mother stared at her belly when she heard the news about François, "as though remembering giving birth," and that little tidbit is as moving as Meyrou's five-minute shot of the rain-soaked murder scene. Or maybe the problem is that the Chenus are sensitive, tolerant middle-class types who don't want to let themselves hate their son's murderers, and so keep talking themselves out of their rage. The sister finally cracks during the trial because she can't bear hearing the defense attorney "put on a 45-minute show" during his opening statement. The mother, however, is more prepared. Before the trial begins, she says of the skinheads, "I don't really want to enter their world." And so, neither does Meyrou.