Wednesday, September 28, 2011
"Polytechnique" - Denis Villeneuve
In December 6 of 1989 a disturbed young man called Marc Lepine walked into Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique carrying a semi-automatic rifle. 20 minutes later he killed himself, after having murdered or wounded 28 people- mostly young women. A Canadian-Algerian immigrant whose misogynist writings made him out to be a sort of reverse Valerie Solanas, Lepine was bent on destroying the females who, he believed, had ruined his life with their unpleasant feminism.
Denis Villeneuve, (the director of "Incendies") dramatized the events of the Montreal Massacre, (Canada's own Columbine) in 2009's "Polytechnique." Starring Maxim Gaudette as an (unnamed) Lepine and Karine Vanasse (who I just saw starring in "Pan Am"!) as one of the survivors of the massacre, this is a tough one to watch. In many ways it's a slasher film as horrifying as any in recent years, except its villain is real, the evil it depicts undeniable. Villeneuve wisely abstains from insinuating that Lepine's actions are a natural extension of woman-hating rhetoric, but he also doesn't abstract the event from a reality in which women are still treated with suspicion when they announce they want to study aeronautics. It's not that the killer ranting against feminism and the employer denying a woman workplace opportunities are the same thing, but (the movie seems to say) they're not entirely unconnected either.
Like Gus Van Sant's kindred "Elephant," "Polytechnique" is more about achieving a certain "feel" than creating a documentary. Villeneuve shoots in black and white, not for any kind of anachronistic newsreel effect, but to convey a poetic austerity. It works: in color, this would be a gory action film. In black and white, it's an elegy. Ordinarily I hate that solemn approach, but if you're going to get elegiac about something, it might as well be about 14 innocent women being shot down.