Sadly there is a list of names, Jody Dobrowski and Matthew Shepard included, in which each entry is one too many. Namely innocent individuals whose lives have been tragically cut short on account of their very sexuality.
That this moving documentary devotes itself to yet another horrific homophobic incident, one that took the life of François Chenu in the city of Rheims, goes without saying. Only to review this work in full is to provide a cinematic spoiler, given the shocking events that took place that night are told piecemeal fashion by François' two brothers and inparticular by his mother Marie-Cecile, father Jean-Paul and sister Aurelie, together with their attorney in the run-up to and subsequent aftermath of the trial of those accused of the murder of their son, some 730 days after the attack itself. In short, this compelling feature documents their search for the motives behind such a despicable act, namely an answer to the question of why?
For it was on the 13th September, 2002 that François Chenu was confronted by three men whilst walking in Rheims' Leo Lagrange Park. The men in question were skinheads, xenophobic to the core, who were out that night to do an Arab, but settled for a homosexual instead. The assault was so vicious, that François' face literally beaten to a pulp, could only be recognised by his sister through his hair extensions. Left for dead on a side path, his killers later returned to the scene of their crime not to save his life, but to save their own skins in the fear of the body being discovered. Thrown into the park pond, François would come to die not from his brutal facial injuries, but by way of drowning.
Made with the participation of the Chenu family, this powerful work was rightly awarded the Best Documentary Prize at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival, given it once again turned the spotlight on homophobic violence that to this day still permeates a certain part of society. Only this film is more than just a visual testimony to such, given it equally marked part of the grieving process itself, as the family tried to go beyond their hatred for those who mercilessly extinguished the life of their son and along the way, somehow understand what made three men, fuelled on alcohol and their nationalistic doctrine, act the way they did.
And yet as emotional a work as this is, we are left with a void in the form of the man himself. For whilst images of the park on a day-to-day basis and by way of a candlelit vigil, mix with footage of the family at home and in the hallways of the court wrestling with both their thoughts and the reporters present, no background to the all too short life of twenty-nine-year-old François Chenu is to be found. Consequently this feature fails to bring you closer to the man at its heart, other than the poignant fact that in proudly standing up for who he was, François did so in the almost certain knowledge that such would result in the assault that followed. Yet what you take home from this feature, is that such an inhumane loss of life was countered by a family determined not to let tragedy undermine their own humane values of compassion and forgiveness.
François Chenu | 1973 - 2002 | an all too short life lived with pride.