Canadian talent Paul Gross writes, directs and stars in Passchendaele, a World War I drama following the intertwined lives of a troubled veteran, his nurse and her younger brother in wartime Canada in this well-staged 2008 historical drama.
At the peak of the First World War, Sergeant Michael Dunne (Paul Gross) returns to Calgary emotionally and physically scarred after being brutally wounded in France, the traumas leaving him with devastating nightmares and shell-shock. Nursing him back to health in the hospital is the mysterious nurse Sarah (Caroline Dhavernas) and they soon begin a passionate love affair that leads them both to trouble after she reveals a secret that changes everything. Meanwhile, Sarah’s asthmatic younger brother David (Joe Dinicol) enlists despite Sarah’s fears and pleading, and Michael feels compelled to return to Europe to protect him, a decision that would have a huge impact on each of their lives.
Paul Gross is superb in his performance as Michael, the charming but troubled soldier, but his script does not match the charm of his performance, bribing down the overall quality of the film. Although presented with the occasional moment of sincerity, the majority of the script is written in a contrived and mediocre manner that gives the impression that Gross only desire was to share his conspicuous knowledge.
Caroline Dhavernas, known for her performance as Dr Alana Bloom on NBC’s Hannibal, brings a melancholic beauty to the film, her character’s haunted past brought to life in a touching way few other actors would be capable of. It is the magic between her and Gross’ Michael that holds the film together and their connection is the one consistent point throughout the film that weaves the otherwise loose plot of the film. Both actors, too, are compelling in their scenes with young Dinicol as David, whose performance garners the sympathy of the viewers while capturing the naivety of his tormented character.
Academy Award winning Polish composer, Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, brings a poignant and otherworldly feel to the film with his tremendously emotive score, and in tandem with the realistic set it is not hard to be drawn into Gross’ recreation of such a significant time in Canadian history. Paul Gross’ showcases his varied talents with his direction using the script to its full, although limited potential.
The beauty of this historical piece is not born from the script but the stunning scenery and performances that make it a mesmerising viewing. Passchendaele is a flawed piece but is crafted with such realism that its heartbreaking beauty is undeniable, and the fascinating story is shown with a profuse wave of emotion.