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On December 6, 1989, a lone gunman walked into Montréal's École Polytechnique, a post-secondary institution focusing primarily in engineering, and began a shooting massacre. This event and its aftermath are shown from the perspective of three people. The first is the shooter himself, who blamed the problems in his life on who he considered feminists, such as female engineering students, who were his primary targets. This event was the culmination of a seven year plan, which had a self-defined end. The second is female mechanical engineering student Valérie, who earlier that day had an interview for her dream internship, working on an aerospace project. The interview process itself was a disturbing one for her in the stereotypical view by the male interviewer, who did not believe that females could work in the business and still have aspirations to have a family. And the third is Jean-François, Valérie's friend and fellow mechanical engineering student, who was one of the few who did ...Written by
A celluloid memorial to the victims, their families, and survivors
On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine wrapped his Ruger Mini-14 semi automatic rifle in a plastic garbage bag, filled the pockets of his coat with ammunition, and headed off to class at the Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, the engineering branch of the University of Montreal. By the time he was through, fourteen women lay dead, and another ten women and four men were in critical condition. Lepine culminated his misogynistic rampage and wretched existence with a bullet to his head, leaving behind a rambling three page letter railing against feminists who had turned society against him and ruined his life and everything good that had been created by man.
Even today the magnitude of the tragedy runs deep in Montreal's collective psyche, and its into this minefield that the film Polytechnique dares to tread, stirring strong sentiments from the public and critics alike for recounting an event whose wounds still live in the consciousness of victims families and survivors.
Filmed in stark black and white, and shot twice, once in French and again in English using the same cast, Director Denis Villeneuve imbues the film with an almost suffocating foreboding as a pallor of death hangs over the day like the snow that gently falls throughout. Rather than dwell on Lepine, he instead shifts the focus to two fictional students, Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau), each bringing the perspective of their respective gender to the story.
By framing events through the lives of these two, Polytechnique packs a most powerful punch. With the exception of a bone chilling beginning, Lepine's murderous rampage virtually plays second fiddle to the story of Valérie and Jean-François, which is how Villeneuve wanted it. He studiously avoids dwelling on death, and shifts the film's emphasis to that of life, grappling with tragedy head on, and the aftermath of anguish that exploded that day like so many bullets from Lepine's gun.
This isn't some sensationalist gory ode to a mass murderer, but rather a memorial to the victims of that day. It's not that often you see that in a movie, which makes watching Polytechnique an act of remembrance, and a cause to reflect.
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