Sunday, August 26, 2018
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and screenplay Jacques Davidts with contributions from Villeneuve and Eric Leca, Polytechnique is the story of the real-life Ecole Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989 where a gunman killed fourteen women. The film is a dramatic re-creation of the event as it is seen from the perspective of students who would witness this horrifying event. Starring Maxim Gaudette, Sebastien Huberdeau, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, and Pierre-Yves Cardinal. Polytechnique is a ravishing yet unsettling film from Denis Villeneuve.
On December 6, 1989 at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, fourteen women were killed by a gunman in Marc Lepine whose disdain for feminism prompted him to kill these fourteen women while ten other women and four men were wounded with the gunman eventually killing himself in the end. It was an event that shocked Canada as it also raised awareness on violence against women as well as gun control in the country. The film is about the events of that day as it is told from the perspective of a few who would be part of this atrocity including the gunman (Maxim Gaudette) who is first scene writing his suicide note as well as think about what he will do on that day. Jacques Davidts’ screenplay doesn’t just follow the life of the gunman on that day but also on a couple of other students such as Valerie (Karine Vanasee) and Jean-Francois (Sebastien Huberdeau) who would both witness or be part of what had happened as much of its narrative is straightforward with a few instances of flashbacks and flash-forwards.
Denis Villeneuve’s direction is truly haunting as the first shot of the film involve a couple of female students chatting while making copies on a copying machine where it’s just this simple static shot that would go into chaos once gunfire is heard. Shot on location at the College de Maisonneuve and College Ahuntsic in Montreal along with additional locations in Griffintown and Westmount in the province of Quebec, Villeneuve aims for an intimate look that has him using tracking camera shots and hand-held cameras to capture the sense of immediacy and fear that is looming throughout the entirety of the scenes where the gunman is killing people. Notably as there is this frenetic energy into the suspense while the violence is unflinching in its impact where Villeneuve would shoot a scene from different perspectives such as what is being heard outside of a room or inside that room.
Villeneuve’s direction also has some wide shots of not just some of the locations outside the school that includes a scene of the killer dropping a note to his mother’s home but also a few scenes outside and inside the school. Notably in the scope of the main halls and how empty they become as the killings progress with Villeneuve also using close-ups and medium shots to capture coverage of certain things or objects that are important to the story. Even as it is told with little dialogue in favor of the scenery and suspense into how some of the women are trying to hide and the young men trying to help them. The film’s aftermath in relation to the massacre does revolve around a survivor who recalls her own experience but also reflect on the women who lost their lives. Overall, Villeneuve crafts a visceral and harrowing film about the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre.
Cinematographer Pierre Gill does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography where it does have this air of beauty for many of the exterior locations but also has this haunting look for many of the interiors including a couple of the classrooms. Editor Richard Comeau does brilliant work with the editing as its rhythmic cuts help play into the suspense without deviating into fast-cuts in order to let the audience get a sense of the danger that is happening in the film. Production designer Roger Martin, with set decorator Elisabeth Williams and art director Martin Tessier, does excellent work with the look of some of the interiors of the classroom including the apartment where the killer lived at.
Special effects supervisor Jacques Godbout does nice work with the special effects that mainly play into some of the violence including an eerie shot late in the film. Sound editor Claude Beaugrand does amazing work with the sound as it help play up the atmosphere of the main hall and classrooms including the intense sounds of violence and terror. The film’s music by Benoit Charest is fantastic for its low-key yet eerie ambient-score with its usage of piano, synthesizers, and guitars in some parts of the film while the soundtrack that features music from Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Sisters of Mercy, Men Without Hats, Mark Arnell, and Patrick Watson and the Cinematic Orchestra are played digetically on set.
The casting by Nathalie Boutrie is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Jean-Francois’ mother, Pierre-Yves Cardinal as Valerie’s boyfriend Eric, and Evelyne Brochu as Valerie’s friend Stephanie. Sebastien Huberdeau is remarkable as Jean-Francois as a classmate of Valerie who tries to help her as well as another wounded student as he copes with not being able to do enough. Maxim Gaudette is incredible as the gunman as he displays an air of restraint into his role as this killer as well as a ferocity into the way he displays his hate towards women. Finally, there’s Karine Vanasse in a phenomenal performance as Valerie as an engineering student that is hoping to get an internship on that day only to be one of the few survivors of the massacre as she would later deal with the aftermath and the impact of being a survivor.
Polytechnique is a tremendous film from Denis Villeneuve. Featuring a great cast, haunting visuals, an eerie score, ominous sound work, and a gripping story of fear and death. It is a film that manages to capture a moment in time that is told in an unflinching yet chilling style that isn’t afraid to show something that is confrontational in its intense approach to violence. In the end, Polytechnique is a magnificent film from Denis Villeneuve.
Denis Villeneuve Films: August 32nd on Earth - Maelstrom - Incendies - Prisoners (2013 film) - Enemy - Sicario - Arrival (2016 film) - Blade Runner 2049 - Dune-Part One (2021 film) - The Auteurs #68: Denis Villeneuve
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