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Film / Passchendaele

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Passchendaele (2008) is a Canadian film set during the events of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I. Written, produced and directed by Due South actor Paul Gross (who also stars in the lead role), the film follows a war veteran who heads back into the war to protect a young boy from harm.

Set during the height of the war, the film tells the story of Sergeant Michael Dunne (Gross), a Canadian soldier who is wounded during the Battle of Vimy and is nursed back to health by a woman named Sarah. He is diagnosed as neurasthenic (what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder) and returns to his hometown of Calgary, Alberta to work as a war recruiter. Sarah's asthmatic brother, David, enlists in the war effort and demands that he is recognized by the father of his girlfriend, Cassie. Sarah believes that Michael is responsible for David's enlistment, and blames him for getting her brother involved in the army. To save David's life, Michael re-enlists with him (using a cover name), and they are sent to the frontline during the Battle of Passchendaele - one of the bloodiest military battles in Canadian history.

At a budget of $20 million dollars (CAD), it is the most expensive film ever made in Canada to date. Passcheandaele was inspired by the experiences of Gross' grandfather, who fought in World War I. The film received mixed reviews when it premiered in Canada.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Lots.
  • Anti-Hero: Michael Dunne is somewhere between Type II and III. He became such because he's a thoroughly Shell-Shocked Veteran.
  • Armor Is Useless: Seen in the final battle. Many of the troops holding the line are killed due to their lack of protection.
  • Battle in the Rain: The final battle at Passchendaele.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dunne dies, but the Canadian forces take Passchendaele - at a steep price.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with a momentary ceasefire on the battlefield, a kestrel, and a stay in the hospital.
  • Child Soldiers: One of the German troops.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Colonel Ormond's response to his command post getting hit by artillery is to calmly demand information about how the battle is progressing and order a replacement lamp.
  • During the War: Set in 1917 and mostly chronicling the atmosphere of the Canadian home front.
  • A Father to His Men: Colonel Ormond (the commander of the Canadian forces at Passchendaele) is this to his troops, while Dunne acts as a father figure to David.
  • Field Promotion: Dunne is immediately promoted by the commanding officer at Passchendaele when his former liaison points out that he's joining the fight illegally.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect : The attraction between Mike and Sarah is obvious from the get-go (to the point of getting lampshaded). Justified, since they've seemed to know each other for a long time while Mike was recuperating from his wounds in the hospital.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Sarah does this with Dunne's help. Not because she wants to drop her addiction, but because she's in short supply and needs to find a way to deal with it. And just like she warned, it's not a pretty sight.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Throughout the film, it usually takes only one bullet to kill a target.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Major Bingham, although it isn't really known if he intended to say more. Nevertheless, a shell strikes the ground near him and his neck is pierced by shrapnel, just as he is objecting to an order to hold the line.
  • Logo Joke: The Alliance-Atlantis logo at the beginning of the film is played over a dark rainy sky, with gunfire heard in the background.
  • Melodramatic Pause: Multiple times throughout the film.
  • Mood Whiplash: A scene where the effects of mustard gas are shown to Canadian soldiers (complete with their horrified reactions) is intercut with two teenagers joking around and losing their virginity together.
  • Mordor: What Passchendaele looks like after the final battle.
  • More Dakka: The German machine gun crews really know how to use their weapons.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dunne comes down with post-traumatic stress disorder after stabbing a (possibly) unarmed teenage soldier in the head with a bayonet during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
  • New Meat:
    • While Dunne and the other two soldiers from opening sequence are hardened veterans, Peters is freshly assigned to the front. He's obviously panicked and Michael has to keep a close eye on him all the time. Peters eventually suffers from a mental breakdown and commits Suicide by Cop by not dropping his weapon when Dunne surrenders.
    • When Michael re-enlists, he's one of few soldiers that aren't this trope, granting him a quick Field Promotion.
  • Noodle Incident: Michael had a complicated and colourful past even before he drafted and became a Shell-Shocked Veteran. He even mentions robbing a bank.
  • Patriotic Fervour: Dunne defies his liaison in Alberta to join the fight at Passchendaele and protect David, even though it amounts to insubordination.
  • Pet the Dog: The German officer in the end, who tells his men to cease fire as Michael comes across No-Man's Land to get David.
  • Pinned Down: The final battle has the Canadian forces pinned down by attacking German troops.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: When facing entire list of charges (desertion, falsifying documents, old AWOL case and few other things), Dunne gets an instant promotion from Lieutenant Colonel Ormond, who needs all experienced soldiers he can get.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Colonel Ormond is probably the only officer in the film that has a strong grasp with realities of the frontline, so all his decisions are pragmatic and level-headed, rather than simply throwing men at German positions. It also helps he's an Officer and a Gentleman, but not pompous about it.
  • Scenery Porn: The foothills of Alberta are shot in long, panoramic views, with minutes of screentime devoted to their imagery.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The assault on the machine gun nest from the opening. Right when Dunne bayonets the last German, an artillery shell falls right into the nest. Have the Canadians waited just two minutes, the nest would be disabled by random artillery fire and nobody on their side would die.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Dunne and his fellow soldier Royster.
  • The Sleepless: What Michael claims to be. In reality, he's simply insomniac, due to a hefty helping of nightmares caused by his frontline experiences.
  • The Stoic: Ormond and Dunne don't react to danger much at all.
  • Too Dumb to Live: David, who during the final battle runs after the retreating Germans and falls into their trench, which indirectly gets him nearly hit by an artillery shell. What exactly was the plan here. The trench would be covered in them and he knew this.
  • Try Not to Die: Dunne says this to David when he first leaves for France.
  • Uriah Gambit: Cassie's father, a local doctor, grants David a medical certificate stating he no longer suffers from asthma, solely to get him enlisted and most likely killed. It's so blatant that no amount of Patriotic Fervour can cover it, and yet both Cassie and David think he really blessed their relationship.
  • Veteran Instructor: Dunne is brought back to Alberta to be an instructor after he's wounded at Vimy Ridge.
  • Victory Through Intimidation: When a group of men gathers in front of Sarah's house, Michael is obviously outnumbered. But when he brutally beats the first of them, the rest instantly backs down, not really having the stomach for a fight or getting in trouble for attacking a soldier.
  • War Is Hell: World War I is portrayed very unglamorously not only in scenes set at the frontline, but even in those that are set on the Canadian home front (which is the majority of the film, really). One of the major plot points is the propaganda-fueled xenophobia towards people with ethnic ancestry in the nations of the Central Powers, particularly Germany. David and Sarah Mann's father is suspected by the authorities to have been a German collaborator and they receive a lot of unfair ridicule and insults because of this. They're actually Canadian-born, so the accusations are really little more than paranoia-mongering to get the populace into a genuine anti-German mood.