Polytechnique (Villeneuve, 2009): Canada

Reviewed by Thomas Steir. Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Polytechnique is a French Canadian film by Denis Villenueve about the the 1989 shooting massicare at Montreal college Polytechnique. This movie is a dark and honest look at the horrors that took place on an ordinary school day at Polytechnique University.

Villeneuve tells us the story through the eyes of the 3 main characters. The killer, a girl named Valerie, and a quasi hero, Jean-Francois. Interestingly Varlerie the female engineering student is the representation of the killers hatred toward women, is the antagonist of the killer and also the protagonist of the story, an interesting dichotomy I noticed in the story. The only important male character in the film besides the killer is Jean-Francois who comes to the rescue of the women, or so he tries. This character was an interesting contrast to the killer who hates women so much.

The story opens with a bang, literally. The shooter comes into the school and starts blasting away. The filmmakers dont show us the face of the killer immediatly, the camera focuses on students making copies at a row of copy machines. Then a loud blast. A few of the students are shot, and a girl at the copy machine catches a bullet. Shot in black and white the blood on her shirt is black. It makes sense the director would shoot this in black and white because of the bloody scenes, I think because it helps the viewers not to see the red blood all over the place. The black and white also does the film service because of the contrast between good and evil is an evident theme in the movie.

The film goes back. We see the main characters getting reading for school on their fateful day of December 6th 1989. First we see the killer getting ready in brilliant close ups, all while he explains his hate for women with a voice over. he claims that all the great bridges and buildings have been built by men and that women are trying to claim a place in the world where they don’t belong. We see the killer in his bedroom with a semi automatic rifle pointed at his head, with the camera patiently holding on him and the rifle, he pulls the trigger and with the nerve splitting sounds effects we hear “click”, then the title of the film comes up in perfect timing, “Polytechnique”.

Villenueve then introduces the main girl in the film. A cute young engineering student with a short hair cut, this woman is the purest representation of what the killer hates so much. We see her getting ready in the morning and she’s off to school.

We are brought along with the victims into the school. Villeneuve brings us into this world with excellent steady cam shots that could even challenge  Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” steady cam triumphs. The mise en scene reflects the times of the late 80’s from the close the students wear to the music blasting through Polytechnique’s cafeteria speakers.

The movie plays with chronology in the first half of the movie to give us perspective on whats happening through the different characters point of view.

Polytechnique is obviously a lot like “Elefant” in its subject content. But its even more similar to it style wise. Both movies play with chronology to give the audience perspective. The biggest difference between the movies is that while “Elefant” focuses on the killers, Polytechnique really focuses on the victims and their story.

Overall this movie was my favorite foreign film that I saw at the festival. From the superb acting to the camera work. Good work Villeneuve.

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