I cringed my way through this movie – impossible not to if you know what’s coming, and what Canadian doesn’t?

This movie revisits one of the saddest days in our country’s recent history. On December 6, 1989, a man armed himself with a riffle and showed up to Ecole Polytechnique to hunt women – feminists, he called them. He shot 28 people and killed 14 women, targeting them specificallygrab1 and even excusing the men from classrooms.

In order to preserve the dignity of the victims of this tragedy, director Denis Villeneuve makes them into fictitious composites, but their truths still ring out. They are students. Their only crime is pursuing education in a field (engineering, mostly) that their shooter deemed “for men.”

Villeneuve shoots his movie in black and white. I discussed this choice before: Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more transcendental way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.

But is it right to be dispassionate about so sore a subject? Rewatching it, I’m feeling the sangdirector’s passivity in the first half, the deaths seeming abstract as they happen off-screen. Later, a pile of bodies is shown out of focus  Most of the horror is kept from us, the worst of it coming from the startle of gunfire as it rips through particularly quiet moments in the film. Perhaps we are meant to take it in without tears or judgement, and simply ruminate on what happened, and why. It certainly feels as though Villeneuve has gone to great lengths to give us plenty of room to do just that.

4 thoughts on “Polytechnique

  1. Andrew

    You mentioned this one back on that Thursday Movie Picks ‘black and white’ edition, and you piqued my interest then, but now you’ve sold me. I’m not opposed to ‘hard to watch’ movies, and this one sounds like it’s done in a way that serves a purpose, at least artistically and maybe even from a societal perspective. The way you describe his dispassionate direction reminds me of my reaction of Van Sant’s Elephant, a film about a high school shooting…I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to almost feel nothing, but at the end of the day I feel like Van Sant actually said so much about society in general by filming it in such a manner.

    Great review here!


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