Polytechnique (film)

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Polytechnique Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDenis Villeneuve
Produced byDon Carmody
Maxime Rémillard
Written byJacques Davidts
Denis Villeneuve
Music byBenoit Charest
CinematographyPierre Gill
Edited byRichard Comeau
Distributed byAlliance Films
Wild Bunch[1]
Release date
  • February 6, 2009 (2009-02-06)
Running time
77 minutes[2]
Budget$6 million
Box office$1,663,867

Polytechnique is a 2009 Canadian drama film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Villeneuve and Jacques Davidts. Set in Montreal, Quebec and based on the École Polytechnique massacre (also known as the "Montreal Massacre"), the film re-enacts the events of December 6, 1989, through the eyes of two students who witness a gunman murder fourteen young women.

After a release in Quebec in February 2009, it was featured in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It received numerous honours, including nine Genie Awards, notably Best Motion Picture.


During a class at Polytechnique Montreal an engineering school, a young man enters the classroom with a rifle. He orders the men to leave and the women to stay. They comply after he shoots into the ceiling to show that he is serious. He tells the women that he hates feminists. Although the women deny being feminists, he shoots at them, killing some and wounding others. He then moves through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women. Once finished, he shoots himself with his own weapon.

One of the male students is Jean-François, who was ordered to leave the classroom. He does not merely flee, as he returns to try to stop the killer and/or help the victims. Valérie and Stéphanie, two surviving women, play dead thinking the killer has returned, and Stéphanie later dies of her injuries.

Some time after the massacre, Jean-François, feeling guilty for complying with the order to leave the classroom and abandoning the women, commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Valérie, wearing the Iron Ring, the professional ring of Canadian engineers, learns she is pregnant, planning to tell a potential son to be loving or a potential daughter that the world belongs to her.


Karine Vanasse stars as Valérie and helped produce the film.[4]

The rest of the cast listed alphabetically:

  • Marie-Évelyne Baribeau as Student
  • Évelyne Brochu as Stéphanie
  • Mireille Brullemans as Admission Office's secretary
  • Pierre-Yves Cardinal as Éric
  • Larissa Corriveau as Killer's neighbour
  • Sophie Desmarais as Female Student (3rd floor corridor)
  • Jonathan Dubsky as Frightened Student
  • Marina Eva as Student at the party
  • Emmanuelle Girard as Student behind speakers
  • Nathalie Girard as Injured student
  • Natalie Hamel-Roy as Jean-François' mother (voice)
  • Adam Kosh as Killer's roommate
  • Manon Lapointe as Killer's mother
  • Pierre-Xavier Martel as Security Agent
  • Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Jean-François' mother
  • Anne Trudel as Student behind speakers



Karine Vanasse, who played Valérie, helped produce Polytechnique, and wanted to make a film about the massacre for years. She helped secure director Denis Villeneuve for the film, who at the time was respected for making the 2000 film Maelström.[4] Despite the sensitivity to the incident in Quebec, Villeneuve asserted it was not too soon for a film, and that there was an important conversation to be had.[5]

Vanasse researched by speaking to the families of women killed in École Polytechnique de Montréal. In the film, one of the women tells The Killer that the students are not feminists, with Vanasse explaining, "One of the women who was there told me that it was the first time in her life that she had to confront her femininity head on".[4]


Collège Ahuntsic was a filming location.

École Polytechnique de Montréal gave the filmmakers the right to use the campus as a location, but Villeneuve opted against filming there to be respectful.[6] The film was shot at Cégep de Maisonneuve and Collège Ahuntsic as well as Griffintown and Westmount.[3] Villeneuve shot the film in black and white, so as to avoid the presence of blood on screen.[7]

There were two versions of the film produced, one in English and one in French. The director Denis Villeneuve hoped the film would enter into the English-Canadian market, as well as the U.S. one.[3] Villeneuve said the subject matter was challenging for the cast and crew to work with.[6]


Polytechnique was screened at the Directors' Fortnight at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival on 17 May.[8][9] It was also featured in festivals in London, Spain and Namur in fall 2009.[10]

The film was released on 6 February 2009, in Quebec,[5] and on 20 March 2009, in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.[11] Its release sparked controversy in Quebec and across Canada for its depiction of real life events involving the murder of unarmed students.[12][13] The film was shown in 45 theatres in Quebec. By August 2009, the distributor Remstar had sold screening rights to around 12 countries.[10]

Alliance Films and Remstar released the film on DVD and Blu-ray in August 2009, along with French language documentary films on the real massacre.[7] It was showcased in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in summer 2011.[14]


Box office[edit]

The film grossed $326,000 in Quebec cinemas during its opening weekend, ranking first at the Quebec box office.[15] By August 2009, it grossed $1.6 million. In English Canadian areas, it grossed $100,000.[10] It was considered a financial hit in Quebec.[7]

Critical response[edit]

The film has received mostly positive reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 85% of professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7/10.[16] In Canada, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star gave the film three and a half stars out of four, stating "Polytechnique makes no judgments, offers no panaceas. It shows the violence, faithfully recreating the historical record, but it doesn't wallow in it. Pierre Gill's brilliant monochrome lensing minimizes the effect of the blood. [...] It stands as a work of art, summoning unspoken thoughts the way Picasso's war abstraction Guernica does in a scene of contemplation with Jean-François."[17] Katherine Monk of Canwest News Services gave the film four stars out of five; "The paradox may sound grotesque, but it must be stated loud and clear: Denis Villeneuve and the cast of Polytechnique have transformed the tragedy of the Montreal Massacre into a work of profound beauty."[18]

Critics compared Polytechnique, favorably or unfavorably, to Gus Van Sant's Palme d'Or winning 2003 film Elephant.[a] In The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that like Villeneuve's later film Incendies, Polytechnique was a statement on decency being more powerful than savagery, and benefited from a rational look on an extreme matter.[19] In Variety, Rob Nelson compared it unfavourably to Halloween (1978) and other violent horror films, but gave it marks for addressing the misogyny of the crime.[20] Ray Bennett criticized the film in The Hollywood Reporter for not examining the psychology of The Killer, and could not understand why the characters did not pull the fire alarm.[22] Denis Seguin of Screen Daily gave the film a favourable review, writing "Polytechnique is a formalist interpretation of an atrocity, with a cool perspective on the events and much for audiences to read between the frames as the film moves back and forth through time."[21] Time Out gave it four stars, saying it avoided tabloid journalism and foreshadowed the message of forgiveness in the face of horror in Incendies.[23]


In presenting the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award to Polytechnique in January 2010, Toronto Film Critics Association president Brian D. Johnson called it a "film of astonishing courage."[24]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Genie Awards 12 April 2010 Best Motion Picture Maxime Rémillard and Don Carmody Won [25][26]
Best Direction Denis Villeneuve Won
Best Actress Karine Vanasse Won
Best Supporting Actor Maxim Gaudette Won
Best Original Screenplay Jacques Davidts Won
Best Cinematography Pierre Gill Won
Best Editing Richard Comeau Won
Best Overall Sound Stéphane Bergeron, Pierre Blain, Jo Caron and Benoit Leduc Won
Best Sound Editing Claude Beaugrand, Guy Francoeur, Carole Gagnon and Christian Rivest Won
Best Score Benoît Charest Nominated
Best Make-Up Djina Caron and Martin Rivest Nominated
Jutra Awards March 2010 Best Film Polytechnique Nominated [27]
Best Direction Denis Villeneuve Won [28]
Best Supporting Actor Maxim Gaudette Won
Best Cinematography Pierre Gill Won
Best Editing Richard Comeau Won
Best Sound Pierre Blain, Claude Beaugrand and Stéphane Bergeron Won
Best Score Benoît Charest Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association 16 December 2009 Best Canadian Film Award Polytechnique Won [24]


  1. ^ Examples:
    • A.O. Scott: "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, a film loosely based on the Columbine High School shootings that casts an ambiguous shadow over Polytechnique."[19]
    • Rob Nelson: "A weaker Elephant, Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve’s school-shooting drama Polytechnique nevertheless distinguishes itself".[20]
    • D. Seguin: "Like Gus Van Sant's Elephant, Polytechnique is a formalist interpretation of an atrocity, with a cool perspective on the events and much for audiences to read between the frames as the film moves back and forth through time."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Polytechnique". Wild Bunch. Archived from the original on 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  2. ^ a b http://www.bbfc.co.uk/releases/polytechnique-video
  3. ^ a b c Nicoud, Anabelle (9 April 2008). "Polytechnique : film bilingue". La Presse (in French). Archived from the original on 19 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Patriquin, Martin (26 January 2009). "The first big film about ... Dec. 6, 1989". Maclean's. Vol. 122 no. 2. p. 48.
  5. ^ a b St-Pierre, Caroline (29 January 2009). "Polytechnique: le drame aurait dû être mis à l'écran plus tôt, dit Villeneuve". The Canadian Press.
  6. ^ a b Wyatt, Nelson (13 May 2008). "Villeneuve says Cannes will be much-needed break after editing 'Polytechnique'". The Canadian Press.
  7. ^ a b c Wyatt, Nelson (4 September 2009). "'Polytechnique' DVD revisits Dec. 6, 1989, massacre at Montreal university". The Canadian Press.
  8. ^ "Polytechnique à Cannes". Canoe.ca (in French). Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  9. ^ Martin, Peter (18 May 2009). "Cannes in 60 Seconds: Sunday, May 17, 2009". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Le film 'Polytechnique' a déjà été vendu dans une dizaine de pays". The Canadian Press. 28 August 2009.
  11. ^ Szlarski, Cassandra (18 March 2009). "'Polytechnique' tackles dark day twice over, in two languages". The Canadian Press.
  12. ^ Kelley, Brendan (31 January 2009). "Polytechnique: open to debate". Montreal Gazette. Canwest. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  13. ^ Kelley, Brendan (2 February 2009). "Some comments on the upcoming Polytechnique film..." Montreal Gazette. Canwest. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  14. ^ "'Polytechnique' de Denis Villeneuve à l'affiche du MoMA à New York". The Canadian Press. 29 June 2011.
  15. ^ Kelly, Brendan (13 February 2009). "Polytechnique tops at the box office". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Polytechnique". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  17. ^ Howell, Peter (March 20, 2009). "Polytechnique: Silent witness". The Star. Toronto. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  18. ^ Monk, Katherine (20 March 2009). "Polytechnique finds beauty amid tragedy". The Calgary Herald.
  19. ^ a b Scott, A.O. (28 June 2011). "A Fictional Killer of Women Who Is All Too Familiar". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  20. ^ a b Nelson, Rob (18 May 2009). "Review: 'Polytechnique'". Variety. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  21. ^ a b "Polytechnique | Review | Screen". Screen Daily. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  22. ^ Bennett, Ray (19 May 2009). "Polytechnique -- Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  23. ^ Fear, David (28 June 2011). "Polytechnique". Time Out. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  24. ^ a b Ahearn, Victoria (January 13, 2010). "Toronto critics name 'Polytechnique' best film of '09". CTV Montreal News. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  25. ^ Strauss, Marise (1 March 2010). "Polytechnique leads Genie race". Playback. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  26. ^ Howell, Peter (12 April 2010). "Polytechnique sweeps Genie Awards". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  27. ^ Bailey, Patricia (8 March 2010). "Can anyone fix the Jutras?". Playback. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  28. ^ Mathieu, Annie (29 March 2010). "'J'ai tue ma mere' wins top Jutra prize, 'Polytechnique' wins most". The Canadian Press.

External links[edit]