leave a comment --Ken Fox
In the late evening hours of September 13, 2002, a 29-year-old Frenchman was accosted in a public park in Reims by three men who beat him unconscious. Fearing they had killed him, the attackers attempted to hide the body by dumping it in a nearby a pond. Their victim, however, wasn't dead at the time, but he quickly drowned in the water. The man's name was Francois Chenu, and his attackers were three Neo-Nazi skinheads, two of them were found carrying cards identifying them as members of the National Republican Movement, the ultra-right wing, virulently anti-immigration political party. These thugs had entered the park that night to "do an Arab," but unable to find anyone with a dark enough complexion to satisfy their hatred, they settled for the next thing on their list of undesirables: a homosexual. Two years later, shortly before the men accused of Chenu's murder were to stand trial, French filmmaker Olivier Meyrou began filming the Chenu family as they prepared themselves for what would undoubtedly be an emotionally wrenching ordeal, but one that will have a wholly unexpected, even inspiring, outcome. Through a series of interviews, we see the effect inexplicable hatred and murder has on an ordinary family. Chenu's sister recounts in agonizing detail how, after her brother's boyfriend called concerned about Chenu's whereabouts, she began to fear that the unidentified body of a drowned man found in a Riems pond she read about in the newspaper was her brother (Meyrou sets her account to a long take of the disconcertingly peaceful scene of the crime as dusk falls). The bereft Madame Chenu now considers herself capable of the same kind of violence, and talks about how she has to struggle to drown out that side of her emotions. Monsieur Chenu can't imagine a future after such an event, but knows he must talk about the crime in order to get beyond the hatred that has infected him in order to rebuild himself. Even more importantly, he comes to understand that the violence is a failure of the society of which he is a part, a society that can only be strengthened through acts of understanding and forgiveness. Meyrou follows the family through the three day trial, the verdict and its aftermath, but the perpetrators remain a mystery. Though we meet members of their families, none of them appear onscreen, nor do we ever hear their voices outside of what was recorded by the court stenographer. As a result, it's hard for the audience to see Francois Chenu's killers has human beings, something Chenu's parents were eventually able to do, and which lead directly to the remarkable act of forgiveness that closes this sad story.