Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Jacques Davidts and Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Maxim Gaudette, Sebastian Huberdeau, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, and Pierre-Yves Cardinal
Based on the École Polytechnique massacre of 1989, Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique is an exploration into sexism and anti-feminism. It’s incredibly respectful to the victims of the massacre and a shocking film from the first moment. The film starts with people just going about their daily lives, and then a gunshot sounds out. It’s a shocking start that echoes throughout the entire film.
The next scene goes back to the beginning of the day with the killer (Maxim Gaudette) preparing for the shooting, while he writes his note explaining why he did it. The note is an exact copy of the real life killer, Marc Lépine’s note that was found in his jacket after he committed suicide. It’s full of hateful remarks about women and how feminists have ruined his life.
Watching the film in 2021, it feels like a template for the incel community. It’s a truly disturbing and sickening thought that there are people who think this way, and the with the voiceover reading out the note in full at the start of the film, you get a true idea of how bad the events are going to be, even if you’re not familiar with the massacre, as well as a sense of how twisted the killer is.
The film is told in a non-linear way through the different perspectives of the killer, who isn’t named once during the film, Valerie (Karine Vanasse) one of the female engineer students and Jean-François (Sebastian Huberdeau), a male student who tries to help the victims. It’s an interesting way of seeing the massacre as it is focusing in on the three people, with the mad panic is happening in the background. It’s a powerful and haunting story that is truly terrifying that someone could do something so horrific.
Villeneuve goes to great lengths to keep the story respectful of the victims. The main characters, other than the killer, are fictionalised, as it says in the opening text. The film is shot in black and white to avoid blood being the focus on screen. There is time spent towards the end of the film focusing on what happens afterwards with the emotional impact it had on the survivors. Villeneuve was given permission to shoot the film at the school where the massacre took place but decided to shoot the film elsewhere.
The film also ends with the names of the real victims shown on screen, contextualising everything we’ve seen and an emotional reminder of the true event. Karine Vanasse, who plays Valeries, also spent time with some of the survivors hearing their experiences.
The massacre is a truly tragic moment in history. Polytechnique is a powerful and emotional film that doesn’t shy away from raising important questions about toxic masculinity and misogyny that is sadly still relevant today. Villeneuve handles the subject with great care and attention to make sure it never feels exploitative of the true events, and he has created something that will haunt you for a long time after viewing.