Released in 2008 Passchendaele is a movie about the effect that war has on the humans who wage it, the major scars it can leave, both visible and not visible.
Paul Gross and Caroline Dhavernas star as Michael and Sarah, and the film was a very personal piece for Gross who also wrote and directed it, the classic Orson Welles like auteur. Inspired by a deathbed confession from his real life grandfather, a WW1 veteran who felt that he needed forgiveness for the bayoneting of an enemy soldier. It has a decidedly Canadian feel, a country whose participation in that terrible conflict is often overlooked or sidelined. It’s a very human film, showing a great deal of compassion for those emotionally damaged by war and as such its not a film to watch if you are expecting lots of spectacular battle scenes, though the few that there are are very effective, all the more so for their brevity.
Because of it’s small scale focus, it actually manages to paint a very realistic picture of the war, more so than if it had been an action based spectacular full of cartoon violence and effects. When people die or are injured in this movie, there is no magical get out clause and Gross doesn’t shirk from showing the effects on friends and families.
At it’s heart, this is the story of Michael, a veteran of several wars and a man who has always been able to cope, but is finally forced over the edge by the sheer massacre of the famous battle which the film is named after. Gross portrays Michael with great sensitivity, avoiding slipping into melodrama as the character collapses and Dhavernas is equally skilful in her portrayal of Sarah, the woman who wants so much to help him but doesn’t really know how to.
Though it’s central theme is rather grim, there is a lot of humour in this movie and the love story between Sarah and Michael is tender and moving. A film with many layers and one that stands up well to repeated viewing. As a historical document it’s probably one of the closest to the truth of the conflict and it’s one of those films that stays with you for a long time after you have watched it. Powerful and memorable.
Language: German, English
Awards: Canadian Society of Cinematographers Awards, Genie Awards, Directors Guild of Canada
Nominations: Directors Guild of Canada, Genie Awards