Monday, November 10, 2008


With 2 young children at home, my movie-going hobby has become a mere ghost of what it once was. No double-dip treats at the mega-plex, nor late evening escapades to the city to see a classic on rare display.

But this past week, I made time to catch Passchendaele.

It's not likely to become a timeless classic but it does have incredible value, as both a historic lesson and a heart-wrenching entertainment. The passion of director/writer/co-producer/song writer/actor Paul Gross is there, perhaps maybe a touch too much, but I applaud him for a thoughtful, impressive retelling of a time and people that are long forgotten. That Remembrance Day is just around the corner made it a timely must-see; and the film adds another candle to some very strong Canadian films of late. The memories of cardboard tax dodges with lame laugh tracks and tinny soundtracks is so 70s ish.

Gross stars as Michael Dunne, which is a personal tribute to his own grandfather, a WWI soldier. We witness early the ravages of war that sent him home a broken man (although my main complaint is that Gross' ability to express/display the soul-numbing experience seems underwhelming) and now a recovering shell of a man in Calgary, expected to trade on his valor medals by enlisting the young and shamed. A nurse, passionately unveiled by Montreal's Caroline Dhavernas, deals with her own pain by comforting the damaged. Her brother (Joe Dinicol) meanwhile labours as a teenager in love and a shamed survivor. The cast is by and large terrific. My quibbles with Gross may be an overreaction; he is the centre of the film, after all. Along with the patriotic and powerful who attempt to wield their way over the rest, these fragile people seek means to survive.

The war becomes their recourse.

There are moments of great emotion, of delicate and skillfully played sincerity, and some truly frightening scenes of war. It made me wish that, as a young man, I had ventured out to thank the dwindling survivors of that conflict when the opportunity was still possible; now, the chance to show my appreciation for soldiers of the second world war (my mother, born-and-bred BCer, was stationed in Quebec while my prairie-raised father in Europe) is drawing closed. Whether you see this film or not, I recommend you take the time, somehow and somewhere, to tell a veteran that you care about the sacrifices they and their friends made, for us.

It should not be just a one-day-a-year type of thing.

By John McCrae

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Post note: I had a brief moment during the film where I imagined, how would a Canadian version of the classic American war film be made? You know, the kind that were star-studded, cameos of everyone, and would it be successful? Of course, its to be debated whether many of those US war films were successful, but just imagine the cast:

Keanu Reeves, Gordon Pinscent, Keifer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, William Shatner, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams... maybe it's better as an idea in my head.

One partisan reflection from the film: At one point we are briefly introduced to the sister and brother's neighbour - a large, slovenly man with a brutish dog at his side. He is at first unfriendly and later at best a boorish bully. I don't know if there was even a need to identify this man by name, because he's just the neighbour. But Gross has the brother address him and maybe, just maybe, it was a wild slapshot at a fellow Calgarian: "Hi Mr. Harper."

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