Passchendaele is Canada’s attempt at a movie. It failed.
The movie centers on the story of Michael Dunne (Paul Gross), a member of the 10th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. We are introduced to him as he murders a German soldier by sticking his bayonet through his skull and is then injured in Europe and transported back to a Canadian hospital. Here he is subsequently diagnosed with shell-shock and falls in love with his heavenly nurse, Sarah Mann, played by Caroline Dhavernas.
As luck would have it, Dunn also meets David Mann, Sarah’s brother. David is a weak, asthmatic boy, desperate to join the Army so that he can a) continue to fuck his girlfriend [yes there are nipples!] and b) avenge his father, who, inconveniently, joined the war on the wrong side! Dunne attempts to persuade the boy not to join the army while attempting to get in Sarah’s pants.
Through his attempt to sleep with Sarah, Dunne helps her detox from her random morphine addiction. Once cleared of the drug, there is a poignant scene were Sarah sits in the window seat of Dunne’s hotel room, basked in the sunlight. This makes her into angel that Dunne first sees waking up in the hospital.
To set up the final act, David uses his girlfriend’s father to allow him to join the Army. Upon hearing this Sarah flies into a rage, because she believes that Dunne allowed him to join up the army, even though he had not. In a ridiculous scene, Sarah bursts into David’s girlfriend’s house, accusing Dunne of signing her brother up. Instead of saying “I didn’t do that” he reenlists in the army so that he can protect David in battle.
So both David and Dunne are now in Belgium, near Ypres, awaiting battle. To make the plot even more ludicrous, while they wait Sarah shows up in France as a nurse. In a beautiful scene, Dunne and Sarah fuck in the open with bombs exploding in the background. Truly heartwarming.
In the concluding moments of the film, the most ludicrous scene in film history is shown. During the assault on the German lines, David becomes enraged and charges the enemy. He manages to reach the lines and falls into the trench and a kind German officer spares his life, but then a shell explodes tossing David’s body into the air. For some reason the body happens to end up on a cross like section of wood. (Through the movie there are constant references to the German’s having crucified a Canadian solider)
Noticing this, Dunne immediately runs towards David getting shot a couple of times. Seeing that he was unarmed, the kindly German officer instructs his men to ceasefire. Dunne then goes up to the cross and pulls it out of the ground. He then-wait for it-puts the cross on his back and carries the body back towards the Canadian lines. So yes, Gross wrote himself into the movie as Jesus.
Ultimately, David is saved and Dunne dies of his wounds in Sarah’s arms. This is where I was the only person in the theatre cheering.
In looking at the themes of this movie, it’s basically anti-war. There is no real glorification of the war. Yet the movie was still terrible. The symbolism was overwrought and transparent. At one point when there is an ominous scene, the camera quickly moves to show a flock of evil birds. In a happier moment (as described above) Sarah is made to be an angel.
From the first shots of the movie, the tone is just off. You can immediately tell that the production values are limited. It just feels amateurish the shots are clunky and unrefined. At one point there is a shot where David is using a telescope, but the focus of the shot leaves it blurry and filling the entire screen. The acting of Paul Gross is laughable, and the even worse by the actor who played David. Dhavernas is better, but by no means convincing.
At the beginning I thought the movie could be a plausible, low-budget Canadian war film. By the end it was clear it was a low-budget, pandering, plodding love story, written by an inexperienced writer, directed by a man with no sense of the physical space and acted by an actor who doesn’t understand drama. F-
I forgot to mention that Passchendaele uses much from the Saving Private Ryan playbook. From the shot of the soliders walking past water to the injured soldier yelling “momma” it’s all there. It’s just done really poorly.