Here is an extract of one of the critiques:
"It is the true life story of a real life event so horrific and burned so deeply into the Canadian psyche that... The event? Long before Columbine, in December of 1989, a lone gunman walked into the L'Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal with the goal of killing as many women as possible. He killed fifteen. Villeneuve's film recounts the events of that day from the perspectives of two of the women caught in the fire and while it shows all signs of handling the material with respect this is such an incredibly hot topic for Canadians that... emotions are sure to run high and protests seem likely."
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The critique continues:
"Before what happened in Columbine, there was this night of December 6th, 1989. Students were either studying, having a good time or just talking to each other in the cafeteria. In between, a troubled and rejected young man enters the Polytechnique institution in Montreal in search of killing some "feminists", somewhat responsible for his ruined life...
Shot in black and white, the effect is troubling. All we are left with is a lot of questioning starting with this single word: Why ? Good acting, good photography and a story which is moving, A movie to see, either in French or English (not dubbed...)
Go watch the movie... Warning to sensitive persons. Its a Hell Ride!!!
This film is a must see. Brutal and raw, it breaks a real story into a few basic elements and lets the events speak for themselves. It depicts the events of 1989 with such realism that the viewer feels as being part of the drama, a witness to the violence. Filmed in black and white, similar in a way to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, few words are needed for the director to properly convey the range of emotions taking place. Shots of beauty contrasted with the ugliness of the shooting make sure that one walks out shocked and completely disoriented of the full packed theater. A gut wrenching experience."
In "Polytechnique", the director provides a bit of a back-story. We learn that a disturbed misogynist with a semi-automatic rifle walks into Montréal's École Polytechnique, on a winter day in 1989, picks a classroom, tells the males and females to divide up, and opens fire on the women. He continues his rampage in the school, until he finally commits suicide.
The film in black and white makes things more depressing, along with shots of snow falling. The killer is shown thinking and preparing. His presence is especially tensed, a great performance of Maxim Gaudette. The other main characters: two female students living together, and a male friend of theirs, who wants to help the victims instead of fleeing, are not sufficiently developed, but the narrated suicide letter explains much. The film doesn't have much dialogue, but it doesn't really matter. "Polytechnique" is tragic and memorable. It does not exploit the tragedy, but shows it respectfully and is dedicated to those who lost their lives that day.
Lepine left 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. The magnitude of the tragedy runs deep in Montreal's collective psyche, and it is into this minefield that the film Polytechnique dares to enter, stirring strong emotions from the public and critics alike for recounting an event whose wounds are still open for the victims' families and survivors.
Director Denis Villeneuve provides the film with a suffocating foreboding, as death seems to hang everywhere on that day while the snow gently falls. Rather than dwell on Lepine, he shifts the focus to two fictional students: Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau), bringing the perspective of their separate genders to the story.
Villeneuve avoids dwelling too much on death, and sometimes shifts the film's emphasis to life: the story of those two sudents helps him do that. But he still grapples with the tragedy head on. This isn't a sensationalist ode to a mass murderer, but rather a memorial to the victims, which you don't see much often in a movie; which makes watching Polytechnique well worth it as an act of remembrance.
Please run see this film!
Overdue and reasonably balanced, it will hit you, perhaps not like a ton of bricks, but you will certainly see the world differently! Polytechnique may suck you in and make you, not a voyeur of a violent spectacle, but perhaps rather more the helpless witness of your own rape. The script may be deemed brilliant, and the editing masterful, but whatever the case it will certainly take you on a journey to the edge of the abyss.
These events really happened, and what the film makes us realize is that you can survive hell and live to be a strong and happy soul. One of the message suggested coud be that you can refuse to surrender to the horrors that surround you, and go beyond life's contradictions to a better future. Despite apprehensions and some earlier negative comments, this film seems to be first and foremost about hope.