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Old October 26 2008, 04:55 PM   #1
CaptainCanada
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Passchendaele

A revelatory experience: going to the theatre to see Passchedaele with my friend Lisa, it was, on our arrival, sold out. Not something one expects of a Canadian movie. So we bought tickets for a later showing, which was itself pretty full. So, if the goal was to attract a decent-sized audience in Canada, anecdotally they're off to a good start.

As to the film itself; the setting covers most of 1917, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge and leading to the Second Battle of Passchendaele, although most of the movie is actually set on the home front, in Calgary (Lisa, being from Calgary, remarked on the way home how weird it was to recognize most of the scenery and "they weren't even trying to pretend it was, like, North Dakota or some other western place"). The film opens with the main character, Sgt. Michael Dunne (Paul Gross, writer/director/producer/actor), serving in France; after a brief fight that leaves him injured (physically and mentally), he returns home and is reassigned to recruitment. Back home, he attempts to romance a local nurse Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas, from Wonderfalls), whose brother David has asthma, but desperately wants to enlist in order to win the approval of his girlfriend's father (and also for another reason, which I won't mention here, since it's a twist). Eventually, everybody ends up back in France in time for the battle.

Overall, I'd say it's a pretty good effort (and, for a Canadian film, there weren't any moments where they appeared to be insufficiently budgeted, which is a feat in an of itself), although the tone of the production is inconsistent; some parts (the love story, principally) are very sentimental, while others (the battle scenes, which may be the most realistic depiction of World War I trench combat that I've yet seen, as well as a lot of the depiction of wartime homefront society) are determinedly unsentimental (there are at least two moments involving corpses that either must have been described in a letter or else Gross has a very disturbed imagination). The actors are all very good, Dhavernas in particular being lovely and quite believable.
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Old October 26 2008, 08:25 PM   #2
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Re: Passchendaele

After the somewhat self-indulgent mess that was Men with Brooms, I'm kind of wary to watch this latest effort... even if he's spent like the last 10 years trying to put this together. That said, I suppose I'm willing to at least watch this on DVD when it comes out.

It's just slightly disappointing that WW1 seems to be the only war that "Canadians" can remember fondly because of this particular battle. Even though Canadians participated in lots of WW2 battles, the only real one that I can remember is the crushing defeat at Hong Kong. Go figure.
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Old October 26 2008, 08:27 PM   #3
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Re: Passchendaele

I'll be having a look at it when it hits the dvd shelves over here (There's little chance it'll get to the cinema here)
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Old October 26 2008, 08:45 PM   #4
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Re: Passchendaele

firehawk12 wrote: View Post
It's just slightly disappointing that WW1 seems to be the only war that "Canadians" can remember fondly because of this particular battle. Even though Canadians participated in lots of WW2 battles, the only real one that I can remember is the crushing defeat at Hong Kong.
The crushing defeat in World War II that everyone remembers is the Dieppe Raid.

For times we won, the most significant would probably be the Scheldt Estuary; Overlord wouldn't have succeeded without that.
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Old October 26 2008, 08:55 PM   #5
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Re: Passchendaele

I saw it yesterday. It wasn't perfect, either as a movie or as a representation of history. But it was pretty good--and I found that its flaws actually made it more interesting.

There is a lot going on in this film. The creators seem to have thrown in everything they could think of, including the legend of the Crucified Canadian. Some of the shots were clearly inspired by iconic Great-War photographs, and the character of Sergeant Dunne seems to have been inspired (at least in part) by the real-life British war poet Siegfried Sassoon, by way of Pat Barker's novel Regeneration.

I agree with CaptainCanada about the film's uneven tone. Some of my students saw it, and compared it to Pearl Harbor. Now that I've seen it, I think that comparison is rather unfair. Frankly, I think Passchendaele is a better movie, and I found the relationship between Sergeant Dunne and Nurse Mann much more interesting than its Michael-Bay counterpart.

A much better comparison could be made with Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981).

A good effort, overall. Certainly worth seeing in theatres.
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Old October 26 2008, 09:13 PM   #6
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Re: Passchendaele

firehawk12 wrote: View Post
It's just slightly disappointing that WW1 seems to be the only war that "Canadians" can remember fondly because of this particular battle. Even though Canadians participated in lots of WW2 battles, the only real one that I can remember is the crushing defeat at Hong Kong. Go figure.
You know--it seems like every time you open your mouth on subjects like these, you just reveal the depth of your ignorance about the rest of Canada and its history.

The last time I read one of your posts, you were asking if the new NDP MP for Edmonton-Strathcona was a "cowboy oil driller". For your information, Linda Duncan has had a long and distinguished career as an international environmental-law consultant.

Now, here--in addition to putting "Canadians" in scare quotes for some reason--you show us just how little you know about both the Canadian experience in World War I, and its subsequent commemoration.

Far from being the reason why Canadians remember World War I fondly, the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele is largely forgotten in Canada. You've obviously confused this engagement with the capture of Vimy Ridge, during the Battle of Arras, earlier in the year, which is only mentioned in this movie.

And I think we all know the reason why you can only be bothered to remember the fall of Hong Kong, instead of, say, the Dieppe Raid, or the Canadian contribution to D-Day. In your own way, you're as provincial as any small-town redneck.
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Old October 26 2008, 09:35 PM   #7
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Re: Passchendaele

Camevilopard wrote: View Post
the character of Sergeant Dunne seems to have been inspired (at least in part) by the real-life British war poet Siegfried Sassoon, by way of Pat Barker's novel Regeneration.
The primary inspiration was Gross's grandfather, who served in the war; whether he nailed a hot nurse by the light of mortar-fire is indeterminate.

As to Hong Kong, most people aren't even aware of Canadian participation in the Pacific Theatre, because there wasn't much of it. My grandfather was on the Uganda, actually (he was incredibly pissed off that the ship voted to go home; he blamed the French).
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Old October 26 2008, 09:35 PM   #8
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Re: Passchendaele

so its safe to say you would recommend it??
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Old October 26 2008, 09:38 PM   #9
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Re: Passchendaele

I would.
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Old October 26 2008, 09:49 PM   #10
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Re: Passchendaele

Camevilopard wrote: View Post
firehawk12 wrote: View Post
It's just slightly disappointing that WW1 seems to be the only war that "Canadians" can remember fondly because of this particular battle. Even though Canadians participated in lots of WW2 battles, the only real one that I can remember is the crushing defeat at Hong Kong. Go figure.
You know--it seems like every time you open your mouth on subjects like these, you just reveal the depth of your ignorance about the rest of Canada and its history.

The last time I read one of your posts, you were asking if the new NDP MP for Edmonton-Strathcona was a "cowboy oil driller". For your information, Linda Duncan has had a long and distinguished career as an international environmental-law consultant.

Now, here--in addition to putting "Canadians" in scare quotes for some reason--you show us just how little you know about both the Canadian experience in World War I, and its subsequent commemoration.

Far from being the reason why Canadians remember World War I fondly, the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele is largely forgotten in Canada. You've obviously confused this engagement with the capture of Vimy Ridge, during the Battle of Arras, earlier in the year, which is only mentioned in this movie.

And I think we all know the reason why you can only be bothered to remember the fall of Hong Kong, instead of, say, the Dieppe Raid, or the Canadian contribution to D-Day. In your own way, you're as provincial as any small-town redneck.
First, I like to think I was being sarcastic in the TNZ thread. As I've said before, my friends from Alberta seem to hold the view that Albertan conservatism is horribly right wing and that's where I've formed my own opinion. Are they wrong because they don't live in Alberta anymore?

And, "Canadians" seems apt for me because of my Chinese-Canadian subjectivity - I have no real tie to either world war. At best, my mother was a child during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia and my father was a child during the Communist resistance fighting in China.

I suppose it's also why I can only think of Hong Kong and not Dieppe, even though that's definitely probably the biggest Canadian battle of WW2 (to the point where they made a CBC miniseries about it).

Also, I fully admit that I have a dim view of WW1. In my view it's the "Iraq War" of the 20th century, but I think we'll leave that debate for another time.
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Old October 26 2008, 09:59 PM   #11
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Re: Passchendaele

John Clark wrote: View Post
I'll be having a look at it when it hits the dvd shelves over here (There's little chance it'll get to the cinema here)
Likewise.

It's curious. Yesterday I was cleaning up some newspapers in my office, and I found an article I'd clipped around Memorial Day. It asked the question -- "Why don't Americans remember World War I?" It is, as best I can tell, America's forgotten war.

Strangely, I've always been captivated by World War I. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II -- he'd have been part of Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu -- but I had no relatives who served in World War I. My closest connection to World War I, strangely enough, is the barber in my hometown in West Virginia when I was growing up; he had served as a drumboy in Pershing's army.

This film is definitely something I'll want to check out. Even if I have to get the DVD through Amazon.ca.
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Old November 9 2008, 04:40 AM   #12
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Re: Passchendaele

Saw the film today - very moving, especially with the newsreel footage at the end. (Odd how they mention the Fourth Battle of Ypres near the end, but not the Fifth.)

I hope that this movie gets a wider distribution... while sighing that had this been made by a British or American group, the whole world would know about it.

firehawk12 wrote: View Post
And, "Canadians" seems apt for me because of my Chinese-Canadian subjectivity - I have no real tie to either world war. At best, my mother was a child during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia and my father was a child during the Communist resistance fighting in China.
Communist and Nationalist, in fact - I'm pretty sure that the officially-recognised (and Western-supported) government on the mainland at the time happened to share the same flag you see flown all over Taiwan today.

(Ironically, the Communists didn't get a decisive edge regarding the balance of power in mainland China until after the Soviet Union rolled over the Kwantung Army during Operation August Storm - after which Stalin had the looted munitions and infrastructure handed over to Mao.)

I suppose it's also why I can only think of Hong Kong and not Dieppe, even though that's definitely probably the biggest Canadian battle of WW2 (to the point where they made a CBC miniseries about it).
Dieppe was the most (in)famous defeat, but I'd eager that the operations at and beyond Juno Beach were arguably larger, and certainly more important.

Indeed, Canada's premier site in Europe concerning the Second World War is the Juno Beach Centre - and not without cause...

Also, I fully admit that I have a dim view of WW1. In my view it's the "Iraq War" of the 20th century, but I think we'll leave that debate for another time.
Bear in mind that WWI was a lot more than just the Western Front - it was the collapse of old empires, the onset of revolutions, the rise of new powers and the sowing of seeds of nationalism, ethnic division and conflict which have profoundly shaped the fate of the world we live in.

The path that took us to the war in Iraq began in the aftermath of Ottoman rule, to give one example.

(Oh, and the influenza pandemic which hit in its aftermath had all too profound an impact, too...)

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Old February 28 2009, 10:20 PM   #13
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Re: Passchendaele

Thread necromancy. Sorry.

Anyway, I finally saw this yesterday and I was impressed. We Canadians are always touting our rich history but rarely does a dramatic effort make it seems as grand as it really is. Passchendaele succeeds admirably on that front, I think.

IIRC the budget for this thing was $30 million, most of which Gross had to beg borrow or steal and it's plain that not one cent was wasted. This movie looks and feels better and more authentic than it has any right to.

I sort of rolled my eyes when I first heard this was going to be mainly a love story but I thought it worked remarkably well. This was clearly a passion project for Gross and it really showed in his performance, especially in the scenes set in Calgary. Caroline Dhavernas was pretty good too. Another standout was that jackass Major who got shrapneled near the end. I kinda liked that guy. I'll also admit to getting a little misty-eyed during Sergeant Dunne's "Jesus" moment at the climax.

It's nice for once to see an epic "flag waving" movie about Canada; the kind that Americans do so well all the time. It was kind of surreal. Passchendaele is not perfect by any means but it was way better than I expected it to be and made me kind of proud of my heritage at the same time.

4/5 Stars.
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Old March 1 2009, 01:18 AM   #14
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Re: Passchendaele

^Thanks for the reminder. I really need to check out this flick.
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Old March 1 2009, 02:23 AM   #15
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Re: Passchendaele

I rented the DVD a few weeks ago and also thought it was very good. Kudos to Gross for making it.
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