Time: 77 Minutes
Maxim Gaudette as The Killer
Sébastien Huberdeau as Jean-François
Karine Vanasse as Valérie
Évelyne Brochu as Stéphanie
Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Jean-François’ mother
Pierre-Yves Cardinal as Éric
Director: Denis Villeneuve
A dramatization of the Montreal Massacre of 1989 where several female engineering students were murdered by an unstable misogynist.
Polytechnique was one of the remaining Denis Villeneuve movies that I’ve been meaning to catch up on. Villeneuve in recent years has shown himself as one of the best directors working today, so I’ve been making sure that I would catch up on all of his movies (with this film, Incendies, Maelstrom and August 32nd on Earth being the remaining movies that I hadn’t watched yet) and now I’ve finally got around to Polytechnique. All I knew about this film going in outside of the director was that it was a dramatization of a real life shooting. It definitely lived up to all the hype, and was a really great (albeit difficult to watch) movie that worked very well for what it was supposed to be.
It’s really impressive what Denis Villeneuve was able to put into this movie with the runtime being less than an hour and 20 minutes. The first act quickly establishes the prevalent characters and the location before the shooting start. This movie is seen through the eyes of two students before, during and after the shooting, and it does really well to keep your attention throughout the entirety. It really does its best to respect the story, and it doesn’t try to give too much context about the events or try to comment on it, they just let is speak for itself. Even the killer himself is established briefly at the beginning, with a monologue from him about what’s driving him to commit these actions and that’s it. From there it’s one very impactful and effectively devastating experience of a film as it unflinchingly forces you to watch this tragic event, without it ever feeling gratuitous.
There’s not a lot of actors to talk about but really everyone played their parts well. The main characters of the film however are the killer played by Maxim Gaudette, as well as Sébastien Huberdeau and Karine Vanasse as the two students that the film focusses on over the course of the events. The three of them were really great and feel really authentic and real in their roles, doing so much with very little.
This is Denis Villeneuve’s third movie and at least at this point he’s really honed his skills and from this movie is a very talented filmmaker. Having watched Villeneuve’s prior movies, I’d say that it’s Polytechnique where he has really found himself with his direction and style. The film throughout is shot in black and white, it felt very appropriate and was much more effective. The cinematography itself was really great. Polytechnique has a very eerie feel throughout, probably because of how painfully realistic it all feels. Even before the shooting starts, the movie effectively places you right there and you really feel a lot of tension as it all builds up to the shooting. And when the shooting actually happens, it hits really hard.
Polytechnique is not an easy movie to watch, given how disturbing and upsetting the subject matter was). However, it is a really great and important movie, especially considering the political climate today. It was directed and acted incredibly well, and considering the seriousness of the subject matter (as well as the fact that it was based on real events), Denis Villeneuve and crew really handled this movie the best it could possibly be. It may not rank among Villeneuve’s best films considering the high calibre of his recent work and it’s not one I want to watch again, but it’s nonetheless a great film and really worth seeing.