Friday, May 15, 2009


After Gus Van Sant's Elephant, here comes another film about a school shooting. Since it's extremely hard for all of us to relive the Montreal Massacre, Polytechnique sparked controversy nationwide before its release. However, besides being a sad homage to the fourteen women who lost their life in the shooting and the survivors of it, Polytechnique is a film that is simply a historical film that does its job.

First of all, Polytechnique is based on a true event (a shooting) that took place at the Polytechnique School, an engineering school affiliated with the University of Montreal, on December 6, 1989. The film follows two students, Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau), and documents that specific day through their eyes. On that day (I was two years old when it happened), a young man (Maxim Gaudette) entered the Polytechnique school with a rifle and a hunting knife. His objective was to kill as many "feminists" as he can, because he felt that his life was ruined by them. As a result of his misogyny, this man (who is only mentioned in the credit as "the killer") took the life of fourteen women and wounded many others before committing a suicide.

After seeing the film, our doubts about the quality of the film are quickly dispelled. In fact, one is reassured that director Denis Villeneuve knew how to handle a delicate subject all along. Hence, the reason why this film - which is shot a little bit like a cinéma vérité film - deserves as much praises from the critics as Gus Van Sant's Elephant, another film dealing with a school shooting (the one at the Columbine High School in 1999).

Obviously, it was a reassurance to see that Villeneuve's concise film didn't aim for entertainment nor to ridicule itself by trying to thoroughly explain why "the killer" wanted to kill women. Unlike most historical films, Polytechnique shamelessly admits that in terms of creativity, historical dramas have some limits. This means that you don't watch this film for the dialogues (there are few), but rather for the presentation of the shooting's effect in the students' mind, which is well done by Villeneuve's solid directing.

In order to do so, Villeneuve decided not to judge "the killer". Besides showing the shooting, the film only sticks to what many survivors heard "the killer" say and his suicide letter found by the police (original letter in French), which is read in a voice-over at the beginning. All in all, there's no need to tell you how Maxim Gaudette, as "the killer", delivers an unsullied performance (mostly through his eyes) to play a man frustrated not just about feminism, but also about women. Besides, he's well supported by Sébastien Huberdeau, who embodies the attempt of some men to save women, and Karine Vanasse.

Of course, since the film is not meant for entertainment, but rather for a duty of remembrance, Villeneuve's use of a black-and-white cinematography reinforces the dramatic aspect of the film while creating a necessary distance between viewers and the events shown in the film. After all, does someone make an entertainment out of a bloody massacre? Obviously, asking the question is like answering to it, because making a film in colour would have been really questionable. Indeed, just forget sensationalism, controversy or cheap shots. Polytechnique is just not that kind of film.

Although it's extremely hard to watch, the film is necessary for us, Canadians, to dress our collective wounds, which have been opened for too long. Besides, while the film shows that hatred is unfortunately part of this world, the film's end also shows that the hope for a better world is always here.

Rating: 4.5/5

Origin:Canada (2009)
Length:77 minutes
Genre:Historical drama
Screenplay:Jacques Davidts
Director:Denis Villeneuve
Starring:Karine Vanasse, Sébastien Huberdeau and Maxim Gaudette

Titles on Amazon (Canada):

Titles on Amazon (USA):

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