The Films of Denis Villeneuve
32nd Day of August on Earth
Polytechnique (December 8/10)
Polytechnique tells the true-life story of the bloody massacre that occurred at Montreal's École Polytechnique after Marc Lépine (Maxim Gaudette) opened fire on the institute's female population, with the film subsequently unfolding from the perspective of two students (Karine Vanasse's Valérie and Sébastien Huberdeau's Jean-François). Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has infused Polytechnique with a stark, consistently captivating visual style that's heightened by Pierre Gill's black-and-white cinematography, which does ensure that the lack of context and character development within Jacques Davidts' screenplay is subsequently not as problematic as one might've initially feared. It's also worth noting that the dreamy atmosphere hardly prevents the film from boasting an impressively suspenseful feel within its opening half hour, as Villeneuve does a superb job of slowly-but-surely building the tension in the time frame before Lépine begins his assault - with the attack itself handled quite well and effectively perpetuating the movie's white-knuckle vibe. Villeneuve's decision to disrupt the narrative with a flash-forward into Jean-François' post-Lépine existence proves rather disastrous, however, as the sequence, interesting as it may be, effectively hijacks the movie's momentum and results in a final third that fizzles out in a disappointingly demonstrable way. The exploration of both Jean-François and Valérie's reaction to the events is simply not as intriguing as the event itself, given that the two characters aren't developed to the point where the viewer is able to work up any real interest or enthusiasm in their respective fates. The end result is a film that's often more compelling in terms of its visuals than in its narrative, yet the undeniably stirring nature of Polytechnique's first half ultimately compensates for its pervasively uneven atmosphere.
Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies follows twin siblings Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) as they're forced to delve into their family's mysterious past after their mother passes away - with the film subsequently detailing Jeanne's ongoing efforts at uncovering the truth. (The movie also boasts a series of flashbacks revolving around the wartime exploits of Jeanne and Simon's mother.) There's little doubt that Incendies does demand a great deal of patience from the viewer, as director Denis Villeneuve has infused the movie's opening half hour with a deliberately paced sensibility that's exacerbated by a lack of clear context and exposition (ie one's attempts at figuring out just what's going on or what's at stake for the characters tend to fall flat at the movie's outset). It's only as Incendies crosses into its engaging midsection - triggered by an absolutely riveting sequence aboard a bus - that the film begins to morph into an unexpectedly engrossing drama, with the slow-but-steady emphasis on revelatory instances of exposition ratcheting up the viewer's interest on a progressively consistent basis. And although the film seems to hit its emotional peak with about half an hour left to go, Incendies concludes with a last-minute twist that effectively compensates for its slightly overlong running time - which, in the final analysis, cements the film's place as a compelling and downright powerful piece of work from one of Canada's most promising up and coming directors.