Thursday, September 04, 2008


Paul Gross | 2008 | 114 mins | Canada

This year’s TIFF opener is a sweeping war epic. I’m not big on war films, and after Paul Verhoeven’s Zwartboek (which I liked, for the record, but didn’t think went far enough into the world of Verhoeven-esque extreme abjection) I developed an incurable case of WWII-film-fatigue. So I guess even though I'm not a military history kinda girl, it was refreshing to see the muddy, rainy trenches of The Great War up on the big screen, rather than concentration camps, or god forbid, Baghdad.

The tale of Passchendaele itself is pretty depressing – the battle raged on for months with absolutely mind-boggling numbers of casualties, until the strategic point was won by the Canadians. A real symbol of the horrors of the war, the long battle of Passchendaele took about 600,000 lives from all sides.

The film version spends half its time in Calgary, Alberta, where Seargent Dunne (Paul Gross) has just been discharged from the military hospital after a long convalescence. Obviously shell shocked from his time in the trenches, the quiet soldier sets to work on wooing a beautiful nurse (Caroline Dhavernas). When her brother (a headstrong asthmatic) decides to go to war in spite of his health and inexperience, the protective Dunne follows the boy to Passchendaele, where all are destined to meet their fate.

It’s not a bad film. For a sweeping war epic, it’s pretty beautifully shot, and Paul Gross sure looks handsome and acts the hell out of some of those emotional scenes with his lady nurse so hard that I nearly shed a tear. It’s just that the whole thing feels like something they’d make you watch at a Remembrance Day assembly in school because it’s educational and good for you, which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of the note any Canadian filmmaker would ever want to strike.

Writer's note: after a day of thinking about it, it occurred to me that I always used to cry at Remembrance Day assemblies. So I guess the above isn't really so much of a criticism.

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