Polytechnique is a pretty difficult film at times (and not necessarily a great movie to watch on a plane), but it also feels much more like the Denis Villeneuve films we’re all familiar with than Maelstrom does. Elephant is the film that usually comes to mind when thinking of school shootings, but Polytechnique feels like the superior work. It’s better-acted, for one, and its more reflective ending is not only more cathartic (to be fair, I don’t think that’s what Elephant is going for), but also just feels more useful, like the filmmakers have really thought back to what happened and looked to a brighter future.
Polytechnique is shot in black and white, but its not only that decision that makes the film feel somehow gentle and shocking at once. The frames themselves are beautiful. Villeneuve gets a lot of mileage from the snow-
And some romantic, yet tense compositions:
Out of context, and without the blood in the first shot just above, these could be pulled from a snowy ensemble drama. I think this is one of the huge successes of the film. This isn’t of course true for all of Polytechnique. Sometimes it feels like a horror film:
And when we’re with the shooter the world is warped and uncomfortable (maybe it’s just because a character is waiting in the car, but these stills below remind me of Prisoners):
The film shows Villeneuve’s great feel for pacing and movement, two of his strongest traits, I think. There’s this steadicam shot:
There’s a lot I like about this shot. One thing is what we accept in films. Like around 0:11 and 0:15 when the camera passes through adjacent doors. It’s a cheat (why are those doors being held open?) but because of how close we stay to the door frame it works.
There’s also the extras who don’t move at about 0:36. They’re sort of a wipe. Not a true wipe, but close. The operator uses them as a way to quickly accelerate and get back in front of Valérie (Karine Vanasse).
But this is also a way to get us into the maze-like school, which becomes important later in the film. The sharp corners, crowdedness, and never-ending narrow halls are all established here in real time.