So, over the past week I decided to spend some spare time with some Canadian cinema. I like to do that if for no other reason than that we are a nation full of great stories that deserve to be told. With that in mind here are a couple of reviews of two well told tragic tales.
The first is “Passchendaele”, which was written, directed, produced and acted in by Paul Gross, the actor best known for playing Constable Benton Fraser in “Due South”. While it was based on a few anecdotes Mr. Gross's grandfather shared with him about that battle it isn't a straight biopic. It's a drama, with the requisite love angles, massive set piece battle scenes and themes of heroic self sacrifice. So if it has all this what makes it worth watching, especially when movies and series like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Band of Brothers”, and “The Pacific” would appear to have already cornered the market?
Well, three things come to mind in answering that question. The first is simple novelty, and the second the historical importance of the events in question. World War I movies are not nearly as common as movies on other conflicts, and movies showcasing Canadian involvement are perhaps rarer still. Since World War I was one of the defining moments in the creation of Canadian nationhood its a time period that deserves to be seen and understood by all generations of Canadians as well as those who wish to understand a bit of the Canadian mindset. While no movie can ever hope to explain everything about an event it can inspire viewers to learn more.
The third part is the strength of the movie is showing the Canadian home front of WWI and its accompanying issues. We're not only shown the issues of PTSD that returning soldiers faced but also the incredible pressure society put on young men to prove their manhood by signing up to fight the “godless Hun”.* Individuals who didn't were often shunned and shamed by their own neighbours, behaviour that nowadays, despite the permanent warfare that Western nations are likely to experience for the next several decades, would be foreign to most viewers.
With regards to the battle scenes themselves they are as intense and often as horrific as one might expect. As a hint of foreshadowing the myth of Germans crucifying Canadian soldiers against barn doors is explored and explained as being the result of artillery fire and psychological trauma. The Canadian troops are shown as living, fighting and dying up to their shoulders in mud, blood, and other assorted gore. While terrible to watch it does serve to illustrate the horrific casualties the battle involved.
Ultimately if you are a fan of history and/or war movies “Passchendaele” is a very worthy flick to check out. I give it four out of five stars.
*Direct quote from a recruiting poster in the movie. My apologies to any and all Attila the Hun fans.