Passchendaele Movie Review
Canadian actor Paul Gross writes, directs and stars in the Canadian war drama Passchendaele
Telling the story of his own grandfather in the First World War, Passchendaele is a brooding romantic drama set against the turbulent years of the First World War.
The film opens with a flashback to an incident in a bombed-out church involving Sgt. Michael Dunne, played by Gross, and several members of the Canadian Corp in Arras, France who are pinned down by a German machine gun crew. Dunne is forced to watch as the Germans mow down most of the men who are with him. He is successful in killing most of the German machine gun crew, however, he stabs a teenage boy through the forehead with his bayonet, an act that haunts him for the rest of the film. Dunne is injured by incoming artillery fire and loses consciousness to eventually awaken in a Calgary hospital. It is at this point that it is revealed that Dunne has been seeing this same sequence of events in his sleep for months and has been shipped home as a result.
Much of the film revolves around Dunne and his infatuation with nurse Sarah Mann as their lives gradually become intertwined over the first hour of the movie’s running time. Matters come to a head when Sarah’s brother David enlists, despite being asthmatic, in order to impress the father of the girl he intends to marry. Michael returns to France in order to look after him, not knowing that he has been followed by Sarah who is now deeply in love with Michael and intends to look after both of them.
The second half of the film is chiefly occupied with the Battle of Passchendaele, more commonly known as the Third Battle of Ypres; however, the historical events of the battle take a secondary role. Gross’s goal in making this movie was to tell the story of how Canada came of age. Throughout the film there are numerous references to Vimy Ridge, which was a key turning point in the war and marked Canada’s coming of age as a nation. Yet, at the same time by telling the story of his own grandfather, Gross is able to personalize the war by letting the audience into the personal lives of the people who experienced it firsthand. Dunne’s struggles with the things he has seen and been forced to do are eerily similar to the many stories that have been told by American, British and Canadian veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Additionally, even though there is little in the way of sustained battle sequences in the film, the sequences that are present are very well executed.
Film as History
By making this movie Paul Gross also set out to correct a curious quirk in the collective Canadian psyche. Unlike like other countries such as the United States, Britain and more recently, Germany, Canadian film makers have shown little interest in documenting, Canadian history, specifically Canada’s war time history. With no Canadian veterans of the First World War left alive, and with the survivors of the Second World War beginning to dwindle, Passchendaele is an important film in the history of Canadian cinema because it serves to preserve an important piece of Canadian history.
Overall, Passchendaele is a tense and brooding wartime drama that stretches from the scenic foothills of the Canadian Rockies to the killing fields of France and serves to remind the viewer of Canada’s baptism by fire during a time when it seemed as if the whole world had gone mad.
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- February 4, 2009 / 5:38 pm
- Suite 101