POV : How did you come to make this film?
Olivier Meyrou: What initially pushed me to make this film was my desire to make a film about homophobia. But I wasn’t intending to make a film specifically about François Chenu; he had not been murdered yet at that time. The film was already in production prior to François’s death, and we were researching locations around the world in which to make a film about homophobia. A few months after we began researching for the production, I saw an article about François Chenu in the French newspaper Le Monde. The article stated that three skinheads had been arrested for the killing of a young homosexual in Rheims. It was shocking to me that François had died simply because he was homosexual.
I was able to meet François’s family members, who were emerging from the first phase of mourning, which was very difficult for them. I think when I met them, they were starting a new phase of mourning, one in which they would search for pathways to reconnect with the outside world.
I asked myself, “How am I going to make a film about hatred when in front of me I have people who are trying to rebuild themselves?” So that became the subject matter of the film. At the beginning, the film was going to be called “The Mechanics of Hatred.” Much later, the title became Beyond Hatred. And it’s not because the Chenus forgave their son’s aggressors. It’s because they forced themselves out of hating. They refused to respond to that violence with values that were not theirs.
POV: How did you establish trust with the Chenu family?
Meyrou: It’s difficult to make a documentary film in the particular conditions we found with the Chenus, meaning that we arrived at a devastated human landscape. These people were completely destroyed. And the presence of a camera can create even more damage, so we were very, very careful not to provoke more damage in an already difficult situation.
How did they come to trust me? I have no idea, but I think it was a leap of faith. It was not easy for them, and I never forgot that. I also took a risk: There are usually release forms that need to be signed when filming a documentary, but I didn’t make the Chenus sign any releases until the film had been delivered and they had seen it. This was an enormous financial risk. I spent two years on the film, and if they hadn’t been satisfied with it, it would have been catastrophic, because no distribution of the film would have been possible.
On a daily basis, we shot very little. We didn’t encroach on their mourning, but the camera was still bothersome, so we also shot very rarely — 15 days over two years, which is not very much.
It was important to me to integrate the Chenus into the cinematic experience, but I realized that integrating them was not necessarily difficult or problematic. They quickly got used to being filmed and reverted to what they were already thinking about in their heads: the death of their son, the upcoming trial and the letter. I accompanied them in their journey, but they accompanied me as well. In fact, it was they who came up with the title Beyond Hatred. The working title of the film had been “The Mechanics of Hatred,” and after the two-year process of making the film, we all realized that the title didn’t work. I was having dinner with the Chenus one night, and someone came up with the title Beyond Hatred. It doesn’t mean forgiveness; it doesn’t mean hatred. It just means what it says — beyond hatred. So even the title of the film was a collaboration with the subjects of the film.
POV: We never see any photographs of François Chenu during the film. Why did you make the decision never to show his face?
Meyrou: I didn’t want to include any photos of François simply because I never met François. I came upon this story after his death, so I asked myself, “What is death?” Death is an absence. Since I will never meet this François, why would I leave a physical trace, such as a photo, of him in the film? I had to find another way to talk about François. So I told myself that that the best way to symbolize him was through the place of his death, which is a very ordinary park.
According to the testimonies of François’s three killers, the attack that killed him lasted about eight minutes. We came back over several days to shoot that eight-minute shot. It’s never explicitly stated in the film that eight minutes was the duration of the attack, but for me, that duration is a monument to François. I had pre-recorded a moving segment with Isabelle, François’s sister, that described the events leading to François’s death. So I decided that I would put the park shot over that recording. It made sense. It was an homage to him, and a depiction of what had happened to him provided by his family.
POV: What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Meyrou: The main goal of the film was to find a way to appeal to a large audience and get audience members to understand that this is not just a story about a homosexual boy or about three skinheads; this is a story about parents who lost their son simply because he was homosexual, about someone who was killed because these three boys hated the other. This film sometimes frustrated certain organizations that work against homophobia, because it’s not a film that tells the story of homophobia through the eyes of an affected person. But I don’t think the film is useless in the fight against homophobia. Instead, I think it’s a film that addresses an audience that has never really questioned homophobia. And that’s the audience I’m trying to reach.
Through the film, we can see people who try to forge a bond and recreate an understanding after a tragedy robs them of everything and isolates them. It’s a tragedy that could have triggered hatred in people who had never felt that kind of hatred before. I think that it’s magical and magnificent to see people who have been deeply touched by the violent death of their son and to see that despite everything, despite the violence, despite the loss of a son, they still hold on to their values and convictions.