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  Polytechnique Hatred Twists The Mind
Year: 2009
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Maxim Gaudette, Sebastien Huberdeau, Karinne Vanasse, Martin Watier, Evelyne Brochu, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Pierre Leblanc, Francesca Barcenas, Eve Duranceau, Mathieu Ledoux, Adam Kosh, Larissa Coriveau
Genre: Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1989, in Montreal, there was a massacre at the city's polytechnic where a shooter (Maxim Gaudette) was responsible for murdering over a dozen young women. He claimed his motive was to attack feminism, which he regarded as harming men like him by creating equality between the sexes where he saw none, giving an unfair advantage over males which was to their detriment. For this, he believed women should die, and took an assault rifle to the college where he entered the building, was not challenged, and went to the engineering class where he ordered the female students to separate from the male students, then for the males to leave the room. What he did next started one of the worst crimes ever committed on Canadian soil.

This is a true story, though the film of the massacre took pains to point out this was a fictionalisation of events, and actual people involved were represented by invented characters, though in truth director and co-writer Denis Villeneuve stayed pretty close to the facts, even if he made the point of never naming the murderer, as if doing so would give him too much credit, since he did not deserve any credit whatsoever. So you see, the film was assuredly sympathetic to the victims and survivors rather than trying to get into the head of the shooter, which some may view as a flaw for if we did not understand his motives, what hope was there of stopping such awful impulses in others? Then again, there was the matter of offering toxic masculinity that degree of publicity.

Did we really need to hear the ramblings of a madman, or was that too reductive, and some form of psychology should have been applied in the film? It's true that you just have to turn to the internet to encounter views similar, if not identical, to the killer's spreading across the net like a disease, though perhaps we should be thankful the vast majority of the reactionaries prefer to adopt a keyboard warrior status and don't get their hands "dirty" by actually confronting flesh and blood women in the real world. Still, it might make them easier to counter had they decided to air their opinions offline, and also if they stayed offline those opinions would be far more difficult to stumble across. But was this a problem for all men, or simply the subsection that has a serious problem with women? Polytechnique could have been clearer on the issue.

Just as not every Muslim is responsible for Islamic terrorism, not every man is responsible for the most reprehensible stances of their gender, and here there was a character called J-F (Sebastien Huberdeau) who does his best to stem the spread of the murderer's spree, but ultimately fails, and suffers self-destructive survivor's guilt because of it. We know this because the film jumped back and forth in time, from before the crime to the middle of it to the aftermath, when the perpetrator had, as so many of these mass killers do, committed suicide as if acknowledging in their minds they had done a terrible wrong, and cowardly in their unwillingness to be caught and punished. Alas, there have been so many of these massacres since 1989, since 2009 and this twentieth anniversary marker, that it is difficult to play out these narratives with any sense of surprise, though the shock remains. Really all you're left with is a depression that anyone thinks acting as the criminal did would solve anyone's problems, but then, maybe all they want with violence in real life is to make things worse: you get that impression here, certainly. Music by Benoit Charest.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with the following special features:

Presented in High Definition
Includes both the English language and French language versions of the film
Polytechnique: Ce qu'il reste du 6 decembre (2019, 52 mins): made for the thirtieth anniversary of the Montreal massacre, Judith Plamondon's documentary gives voice to the survivors and witnesses of the event and is narrated by Karine Vanasse, actress and co-producer of Polytechnique
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Illustrated booklet featuring a foreword by Denis Villeneuve, reminisces from actor Karine Vanasse, a new essay on the film by Jessica Kiang and a look at the career of Denis Villeneuve by Justine Smith.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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