A College Massacre, and Its Aftermath, in Polytechnique


Like his recent Oscar contender, the continent- and era-toggling Incendies, Québécois director Denis Villeneuve’s earlier, never released Polytechnique (2009) tracks the legacy of horrific violence. But the black-and-white Polytechnique is inspired by a real atrocity closer to home: the December 6, 1989, massacre at a prestigious engineering college in Montreal. As Gus Van Sant did in Elephant, Villeneuve, co-writing with Jacques Davidts and Éric Leca, offers no explanation for the shooting rampage. All we learn about the no-named killer (Maxim Gaudette, the male twin in Incendies) is elucidated in the screed he writes before loading his rifle in the film’s first few minutes: “Feminists have succeeded in enraging me.” Interrupting a lecture on entropy, he orders the class to segregate by gender: The men are told to leave; the women are gunned down. (The film is presented “in memoriam” to the 14 female students who died that day.) The time-shuffled actions of two in that classroom—Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau) and Valérie (Karine Vanasse)—reveal distinct heroics, as well as vastly different responses to living with trauma. Before the full-on gynocide at her school, Valérie is humiliated by an all-too-common form of sexism during a job interview, and Polytechnique smartly exposes the spectrum of misogyny without overplaying the connection between the two incidents. Which makes the concluding flash-forward scene all the more disappointing: Designed to give hope, it comes off as an emotional sop instead.