"Polytechnique" DVD, Blu-ray Review

6/14/2010 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Written by Jacques Davidts and Villeneuve, 77 Minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Aside from Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," there are not very many mainstream films willing to explore the violence and horror of school shootings--they have an effect on the public consciousness in a way many similarly tragic events simply don't. "Polytechnique" joins Van Sant's masterpiece in the ranks of films willing to view such a tragedy from a mature and realistic perspective.

Based on the 1989 massacre that took place at the Quebec university of the same name, "Polytechnique" dramatizes the event through three characters. Jean-Francois (Sebastien Huberdeau), a student who takes action during the shooting and attempts to help his fellow students; Valerie (Karine Vanasse), one of the victims of the shooting, one of the few to survive despite her injuries; and the shooter himself, Marc Lepine (Maxim Gaudette).

The film, like Van Sant's, follows these characters in a detached manner in order to avoid attempting to truly give reason to Lepine's actions. The film begins with a narration of Lepine's suicide note, claiming his violent act intended to defy and condemn feminism, which he believed was destroying his life. Most of his victims were women, and following the event there was great controversy in the attempts to understand what Lepine's overall intentions were. The film doesn't try to rationalize--it gives the audience everything known regarding the event and leaves us to decide. It's not a confrontation of the event itself but more a confrontation of the audience.

Ultimately, the film isn't quite as successful as "Elephant." Both take a detached, minimal look at violence, and more broadly the potential for violence in people, but where "Polytechnique" doesn't quite work is when, unlike Van Sant's film, it elaborates on certain themes--an epilogue featuring one of the characters following the massacre comes off as more preachy and purposefully explanatory than the rest of the film, which really reduces some of the power of what comes before it.

But what does come before it is truly something. The intertwining plot is used to great effect, with little details from one character's story being brought to great fruition in another, and the tension before everything hits the fan is extremely well built. The three lead performances, from relatively unknown and inexperienced actors, are absolutely fantastic, which is definitely one area where the film triumphs over "Elephant."

I hate to compare it so much to Van Sant's film--it would be simplistic and disrespectful to say "Polytechnique" was just the Canadian "Columbine," but it takes so much from "Elephant" that it's hard not to. I think overall it would be best to say that it acts as an excellent companion to "Elephant." They convey violence in a way many films don't--it's realistic, it's brutal, and it's cold, and it makes watching the film very difficult. But truthfully, there's no better way to look at these kind of events. It would be shameful to try to get cheap thrills out of tragedies like this.

The only other main complaint one may find with the film is director Denis Villeneuve's main stylistic choice--he films the events in black and white, and though the visuals are just fine and work suitably with the material, it seems a rather self-conscious and unnecessary choice and it is occasionally showy and distracting. Hardly a major problem, though.

It's a very sad story, but I can't imagine it told better, and it's a very admirable attempt to remove the focus from Lepine and place it on the event itself and the people it effected.

Grade: B

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