You can imagine how, after the handful of films that've re-created---or exploited---school shoot-outs over the past decade, a certain inurement to scenes of shrieking students might set in. (Familiarity with dramatized atrocities doesn't breed contempt, only numbness; see also representations of the Holocaust.) But there's little worry that Denis Villeneuve's award-winning look at the cole Polytechnique massacre won't properly horrify: An opening scene of routine collegiate bustle is suddenly interrupted with gunfire and, then, the wordless wanderings of a dazed victim. It's a jolt, yet not an oversensationalized one; you merely feel as if you've walked into a dream (accentuated by the movie's black-and-white cinematography) and have instantly found yourself in a nightmare.
Though the characters are fictional, Polytechnique hews close to the facts regarding the 1989 incident, down to its misogynistic Marc Lpine avatar (Gaudette) separating "feminist" coeds in a classroom. The way Villeneuve frames this massacre as a more aggressive aspect of socialized gender inequity---from the tottering high heels an engineering student (Vanasse) wears for a job interview to the casual condescension of her interviewer---grounds the movie in a context outside of tabloid voyeurism, as well as staves off the feeling that a real tragedy is merely being mined for a highly aestheticized art project. Ditto the film's final act, involving a survivor writing a letter to the killer's mom---a move that's a tad overplayed yet nicely anticipates Villeneuve's 2010 masterpiece, Incendies, another story of forgiveness in a cruel, cold world.
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