You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


The 77-minute film is plenty arty and only arguably constructive in its tasteful fictionalization of a violent tragedy.

With: Sebastien Huberdeau, Maxim Gaudette, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Johanne-Marie Tremblay.

A weaker “Elephant,” Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve’s school-shooting drama “Polytechnique” nevertheless distinguishes itself by endeavoring to comprehend the 25-year-old man who murdered more than a dozen female students at Montreal’s Polytechnique School in 1989. Lensed in black-and-white, the 77-minute film is plenty arty and only arguably constructive in its tasteful fictionalization of a violent tragedy. Outside Quebec, where it opened strongly on Feb. 6, commercial prospects for the flashback-laden film appear dicey but not disastrous given the professionalism of the production and, sadly, the ease of the French-language pic’s thematic translation to most any territory.

Dedicated to the school’s students and staff, along with the victims’ families (whose loved ones are individually memorialized at the pic’s end), “Polytechnique” takes sufficient care to seem nonexploitative, and its violence, while aptly disturbing, is often obscured when not presented entirely off-camera. Still, the pic can’t fully shake its story’s connection to that of the average slasher film, particularly not with images of injured women crawling on hands and knees, nor the “Halloween”-style foreshadowing of bloodshed in a classroom lecture.

To its credit, “Polytechnique” doesn’t shrink from detailing the murderer’s misogyny. First seen composing an explanatory note that soon turns into a hateful rant, the unnamed killer attributes his rage to “feminists” who ruined his life.

Subsequent scenes emphasize the strength and autonomy of the school’s female students by way of identifying what would have threatened this self-described “rational” psychopath (Maxim Gaudette), whose swollen eyes and sullen demeanor give the character some resemblance to Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker character in “Spider-Man” at his lowest. Closeups of the shooter’s shaking hands in the minutes before he walks into school with a semiautomatic rifle in a garbage bag make him appear human, if not sympathetic.

In addition to Gaudette’s frighteningly believable turn, strong impressions are made by Karine Vanasse as Valerie (the pic’s Jamie Lee Curtis, one could say) and by Sebastien Huberdeau as Jean-Francois, a hunky young man who dares to pursue the killer. The viewer’s mounting hope that Jean-Francois will heroically prevent a death or two is among the signals that “Polytechnique” is a far more conventional enterprise than Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or-winning “Elephant” from 2003.

For better or worse, musicvid vet Villeneuve (“Maelstrom”) has decided on a tone that’s only intermittently nerve-wracking, deploying some scenes largely for tension-relieving effect. As shot by d.p. Pierre Gill, whiteout images of wintry Montreal lend an ironic fairytale quality to the proceedings. Cost-conscious period detail includes a shrewd cover of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Through a climactic flash-forward, the film ends on a decidedly hopeful note.



Production: A Remstar Media Partners release of a Remstar presentation of a Don Carmody/Remstar production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Maxime Remillard, Carmody. Executive producers, Andre Rouleau, Julien Remillard. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Villeneuve, Jacques Davidts, Eric Leca.

Crew: Camera (B&W, widescreen), Pierre Gill; editor, Richard Comeau; music, Benoit Charest; production designer, Martin Tessier; costume designer, Annie Dufort; sound (Dolby Digital), Pierre Blain; special effects supervisor, Jacques Godbout; associate producers, Karine Vanasse, Nathalie Brigitte Bustos; assistant director, Benoit Hamel; casting, Emmanuelle Girard. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 17, 2009. Running time: 77 MIN.

With: With: Sebastien Huberdeau, Maxim Gaudette, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Johanne-Marie Tremblay.

More Film

  • Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Honored

    Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Named Honorary Argentine Academy Members

    BUENOS AIRES — In a ceremony just before Friday’s prize announcements at Ventana Sur, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux and José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian Festival, were named honorary members of Argentina’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a new move for the Academy, out through by its new president, Bernardo [...]

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content