Polytechnique (the movie)

December 6, 2009 at 10:35 am (Movie Commentary) (, , )

Last year’s post, Remembering, gave you my personal point of view about this day: Dec 6th, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

This year, I wonder is twenty years long enough to mark history? To go from emotion to analysis. Where is the dividing line between present/past/history? How many years/generations does it take?

In 1989 14 women students were murdered by a male at the Montreal University École Polytechnique just because they were women studying in unconventional fields; they were studying to be engineers.

Director Denis Villeneuve tells this story in a minimalist manner in his movie Polytechnique.

I avoided this movie. I wasn’t sure if this was how I wanted to spend a few hours of my life; remembering horror. It’s only been twenty years; it’s too recent. It’s not history yet.

I was worried that the movie would be either exploitative or inept, or one of those movies that tries to explain the “psychology” behind insane rampages, that aims for sympathy for the assassin. And assassin he was.

In fact, Polytechnique is a sparse work.

The film is in black and white, making things more depressing, interspersed along with shots of snow. This is winter in Canada. There is a cabin fever vibe.

The brutal & raw movie parallels what to me is the worst of winter; the aloneness, the cold, the snow.

The movie starts off showing the truth of student life; you line up for the photocopier and the laundry, search for cards and quarters. You have intense discussion about ideas, both academic and real, as you struggle to educate yourself into a new life that seems full of possibilities.

The movie has no gratuitous violence, no gratuitous emotion, no excesses of any kind. Unsentimental, and completely moving. It stops your breath. The tears are constantly at the back of your eyes as you struggle not to cry, not to obscure your vision. You want to see and at the same time want to look away.

This isn’t some sensationalist gory ode to a mass murderer, but rather a memorial to the victims of that day, both the dead and the survivors.

The filmmakers have not exploited the tragedy, but showed it respectfully, and dedicated it to those who lost their lives that day.

As if I could ever forget. This is my 9/11. My OMG what the hell was that moment. Did the radio really just say 14 women dead? Why? WHY!

Polytechnique was released on February 6, 2009 in Quebec and on March 20, 2009 in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. I’m glad it was released well before today, the 20th year since it happened. (I can’t write anniversary. anniversaries are happy events).

Here are some additional facts about the movie and my comments on such (in brackets)!

  • The name of the perpetrator is never once mentioned in the film. (I saw him listed somewhere as assassin and this seems to make the most sense to me.)
  • The film was shot in black and white in order to avoid the presence of blood on screen. (I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have watched it in colour; I would have walked out and missed a compelling, educational experience).
  • Filmed simultaneously in English and French. (Bravo, for including all of us and I’m sorry more people out west here aren’t aware of the movie. I only found out about it because I live close to one of the only independent theatres in Saskatchewan.)
  • The movie was screened for the family members of the victims before being released commercially. The film was released with their blessing. (Thank you to the families and the filmmakers for their courage.)

This McGill University paper article tells us not only names of the deceased but makes these names real to me with facts about their lives and dreams. Facts that before now never registered within me. Are these women more real to me now because I have a visual to sit alongside my emotional reaction to that day?

If you want to explore the movie further go to IMDB or the Official site which is also sparse.

Je me souviens … Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, 31; Maryse Laganière, 25; Maryse Leclair, 23; Anne-Marie Lemay, 27; Sonia Pelletier, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; Annie St-Arneault, 23; Annie Turcotte, 21.



  1. Amanda said,

    can you tell me where you got the heart image from?

    • solitaryspinster said,

      I searched for clip-art in my version of Microsoft Office Publisher 2003. This is part of a image I found when I used heart in the search box. You can see the other part in my post on the book Stargirl (November 29, 2009). I then cropped and re-sized the image to my liking, still in Publisher, and saved it as a picture.

      If you look at my copyright information, on the right top of this page, you will see that I am willing to share all of MY images (etc.) that I use on this blog as long as you link back to me as creator.

      Thanks for your interest in my work.


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