Mar 14, 2015

Review: Polytechnique (2009)

There's no question that the École Polytechnique Massacre is one of the saddest chapters in all of Montreal and Quebec history. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a knife, Marc Lépine went on a rampage through École Polytechnique and shot 28 people, killing 14 women. After ending his own life, it was later discovered that his attack was motivated by a hatred of feminism and women whom he blamed for his less than desirable life. One still can't help but wonder how someone could become so full of hatred to commit such an act.

The decision to make a movie based on these events was quite controversial at the time before the film's release which is understandable given the circumstances. I mean, is it right to make a film based on a national tragedy for commercial purposes? According to Denis Villeneuve, "It's something that caused a lot of anger here, that caused a lot of pain, and the idea that you can't talk about it? I think that's really immature." I side with Villeneuve on this one personally.


Genre: crime, drama, history
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Produced by: Don Carmody, André Rouleau, Maxime Rémillard, etc.
Written by: Jacques Davidts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Leca
Music by: Benoît Charest
Running time: 77 minutes
Production company: Remstar Media Partners, Remstar Productions, Don Carmody Productions, etc.
Distributed by: Alliance Vivafilm, Remstar Films, Babilla Ciné, etc.
Country: Canada
Language: French
Budget: N/A
Box office: $1,663,867 (Canada)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Maxim Gaudette, Sébastien Huberdeau, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Martin Watier, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Pierre Leblanc, Francesca Barcenas, Eve Duranceau



A young man (Maxim Gaudette), unsatisfied with his life composes a suicide letter. He places the blame on feminists and on women in general who he feels are taking away positions that rightfully belong to men such as himself. Loading his rifle and putting it in a garbage bag, he first leaves a note for his mother saying that what's to happen was inevitable before he makes his way to L'école Polytechnique.


It's important to note that Polytechnique is a dramatization of the events that actually happened in 1989, not a straight up reenactment. The characters that are featured are new creations by the writing team out of respect to the victims and the shooter is even nameless. Marc Lépine certainly doesn't deserve any kind of spotlight, least of all as the principal villain in a feature film. The story follows the real-life sequence of events quite closely anyway with some additional narratives on the side.

Shot completely in black and white, Denis Villeneuve has created a cold and depressing film. Montreal has never looked colder than this. Since this is all based on what may be the darkest day of the city, this is fitting. What Villeneuve is trying to show is the stark reality of what happened without any kind of alteration or modification. We're simply shown exactly what happened and there's no beauty in that.

Probably one of the most powerful things about Polytechnique is the tension and how incredibly it mounts. There are some heart-pounding moments that involve the shooter just being in the school and looking around at all the students going about their business. He doesn't have his rifle with him yet, but his angry stare that goes unnoticed by all those around him is terrifying. After sitting in his car alone in the cold after some time, he takes it with him and goes back in. You know what's going to happen next.

There are many more heart stopping moments once the rampage begins, none more so than the scene where the shooter enters a classroom with his rifle. After getting the class' attention, he orders the students to separate by gender and then orders the men out of the room. Villeneuve does not glorify what the shooter does in the least and no one with half a brain could ever sympathize with his actions. This is simply what happened and nothing more. Mindless hate such as this does indeed exist and it's inexplicable. 

We also see these events through the eyes of two students: Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau). Both are students in the initial classroom that the shooter enters and both are impacted by it in a huge way of course. The fact that we have a male and female character is a great way of being able to see the events through the eyes of each gender. Seeing these two sides becomes incredibly important as the film goes on.

My only complaint is that I couldn't help but feel that the ending of Polytechnique is a bit too hopeful. While I can appreciate the sentiment, it felt just too overwrought in that sense. It even has the effect of making the film seem to drag on when it's only a scant 77 minutes long. The ending doesn't derail the film or anything, but it certainly could've been handled better.

The overbearing ending doesn't stop Polytechnique  from being a very powerful film. Villeneuve and his team approached this project in the best possible way. Offering an unflinching look at the terror of that day, tragedies such as this need be remembered. Serving as a tribute to all those who died that day, Polytechnique is a respectful and effective tool at making sure that we do remember. I may have not been born yet when this all happened, but I can't imagine a much better way to learn about it than this film.



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