Before he moved to Hollywood with films like Sicario and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve made a film about one of the darkest moments of Canadian history with Polytechnique. On December 6, 1989, a lone gunman (Maxim Gaudette) walked into École Polytechnique in Montreal and shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before killing himself. This semi-fictionalized recreation of the events are shown from the point of view of Polytechnique students Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau) and Valérie (Karine Vanasse).
Nearly three decades after it occured, the shooting at École Polytechnique, also referred to as the Montreal Massacre, is probably still one of the most tragic events in Canadian history. Fueled by extreme misogyny and anti-feminism, the single gunman, who is unnamed in the film, enters the school and kills every women he sees with extreme prejudice.
With Polytechnique, Denis Villeneuve had the challenge of recreating the events of this massacre, while not trying to glorify the event. This is achieved by the fact that he shot the film in black and white, de-emphasizing the blood, and told the film primarily through the visuals, with very little dialogue. In addition, Villeneuve created the fictional protagonists of Jean-François and Valérie, through the perspective of each we see the events of the massacre. Either way, Polytechnique is a very affecting film and it’s probably more relevant today than it was when it was released back in 2009, as women continue the fight against misogyny.
At the time Polytechnique was made, Denis Villeneuve was probably best known for his 2000 urban fairy tale Maelström. However, this is the film that essentially paved Denis Villeneuve’s road to Hollywood, as Polytechnique received huge acclaim and won 9 Genie Awards, including Best Picture. Villeneuve would receive similar acclaim with his 2010 follow-up Incendies, which received an Oscar nomination, and he officially made the trip south of the border of 2013’s Prisoners and has remained their ever since.
Altogether, I have to say that Polytechnique is nothing less than a masterpiece of modern Canadian cinema.