Co-presented by University of Waterloo Women's Studies

Part of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Opening remarks by Prof. Carolyn Hanson (Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering), Q+A afterwards. Regular admission prices apply. “Denis (Sicario, Enemy, Incendies) Villeneuve’s somber and meticulous “Polytechnique,” about killings that took place more than 20 years ago at a Montreal technical school, feels both shocking and dreadfully familiar. The way horror erupts into the routines of an ordinary day, in drab, functional, institutional spaces — we know this from news reports, from our own imaginations and from movies like Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant. Both “Elephant” and this film steer away from trying to explain or moralize about what is depicted on screen. Instead they stick to the basics of time, space and human behavior and allow meaning to seep in gradually and obliquely through the edges.

“Like the real shooter, Marc Lepine, who killed 14 women on Dec. 6, 1989, Mr. Villeneuve’s fictional perpetrator is motivated by rage against feminism, which he blames for both his own unspecified problems and for the sorry state of modern civilization. The existence of female engineers and scientists is the focal point of his resentment. The face of Maxim Gaudette, the actor who plays him, is impassive and calm, as is the voice that reads the shooter’s pompous letter laying out the reasons for his action.

“The film’s sympathies, though, lie entirely with the victims, to whose memory it is dedicated. “Incendies” demonstrated Mr. Villeneuve’s ability to hold onto a humanist perspective in the face of extreme inhumanity, and “Polytechnique,” though it relies less on dramatic contrivances, is similarly clear in its insistence that decency is ultimately stronger than barbarism. In addition to the man with the gun, the film follows two other characters through the shooting and its aftermath.

“One is Valérie (Karine Vanasse), a student whose experience at a humiliating interview — she is asked why she is interested in an aeronautics career that might stand in the way of her presumed desire to have babies — is a succinct refutation of the shooter’s belief that women enjoy unfair advantages. Sexism follows her through the corridors and classrooms like an odorless cloud. The third main figure is Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau), a classmate of Valérie’s. His response illustrates both the possibility and the futility of empathy in the face of insane violence.

“Shot in restrained, wide-screen black-and-white, Polytechnique is neither floridly melodramatic nor showily minimalist. The virtue of this movie is that it confronts senselessness and insists on remaining calm and sane.” - A.O. Scott, NY Times


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