The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004, followed by the publishing of twelve satirical cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed that was commissioned for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, provides the incendiary framework for Daniel Leconte’s provocative documentary, It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks. Chronicling the 2007 civil trial of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo and its editor Philippe Val for reprinting the now infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons (along with an additional series of similarly themed cartoons) for the February 9, 2006 edition, the film is an incisive examination of the complex, often conflicting issues of free speech, self-censorship, secularism, and assimilation. On one side of the argument is the broad stroke, caricatured depiction of a minority community that not only tenuously associates the terrorist acts committed by a subculture of Islamic extremists with the wider, mainstream Muslim culture (who often bear the retaliatory brunt of these acts in society), but also resurrects the specter of colonialism in their continued treatment as marginalized, derided second-class French citizens: a sentiment that is reflected in prosecutor (and Jacques Chirac’s counsel), Francis Spizner’s terse comment, “We are no longer the Indigenes of the Republic!” On the other side is the idea that exercising political correctness by innoculating a specific religious community from being a target of satire is, itself, an act of racism: an implication of difference and self-consciousness that runs counter to the ideals of tolerance and inclusion (as Val’s defense attorney, Richard Malka, humorously argues by displaying equally irreverent cartoons satirizing Catholic church controversies that were previously published in Charlie Hebdo, causing members of the prosecuting team to break out in laughter) and, more importantly, detracts from the real social problem of global terrorism. Interweaving footage shot during the course of the trial (or, more appropriately, the media circus surrounding it as people alternately vie for attention to promote their agendas, however tangential) and interviews with participants from the case (including prominent defense witnesses such as filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, Iranian political refugee, Professor Mehdi Mozzafari, and exiled Algerian journalist, Mohamed Sifaoui), Leconte emulates the dialectic structure of a trial to convey a sense of social dialogue – contributing to an evolving public discourse that, like the blasphemous cartoons, paradoxically upholds the ideals of civilized society.
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