Long have Canadians watched films about American heroism in war, leaving an obvious, unrealized niche in North American cinema. With all the excitement over Paul Gross' new film, Passchendaele, it is easy to mistakenly believe that the movie has anything at all to do with the infamous Third Battle of Ypres, in which the Canadian corps captured the town of Passchendaele in a hard-won campaign. After all, the film is called Passchendaele, right? Perhaps the title War Love Story doesn't quite ignite as many tingly feelings in the hearts of Canadians as does a title that purports to be about one of the most important battles in Canadian military history.
There's nothing wrong with a little romance in war films. In fact, it adds to the experience. It's something relatable to most audiences and makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the brutality of war. The problem with Passchendaele is too much time was spent in the film setting up the love story to the point that the film has little or no historical value. Outside of a few vaguely descriptive strips of text that precede and follow the film, the audience isn't really told why the battle was significant and makes just enough passing references to some of the other major victories of the Canadian corps to be insulting to those who are aware of them. One can no more experience Passchendaele through the film than one can experience it through reading a few lines from an encyclopedia.
Many Canadians often complain that their side of the story is rarely told in popular culture. Films glorify Americans in video games, movies and television such that one may be led to believe Americans won both world wars all on their own. As a result, Canadians struggle to come to terms with a uniquely Canadian identity. Though it may seem odd to say that an artistic expression has any duty to do anything, when a film called Passchendaele is about Canadian soldiers and is funded by the government of Alberta, one can reasonably expect a thrilling and tragic tale about Canadian bravery. As the first major film about Canada's role in either of the world wars, Passchendaele had a duty to tell a story that it simply refused to fulfill in favour of a masturbatory love story between a decorated Canadian soldier and the Canadian-born daughter of a Bavarian soldier who died in an earlier battle.
In what is best described as an unfortunate effort, the film isn't terrible because it's a love story. It's terrible because it doesn't really get into the heads of soldiers and show the significance, tragedy and ultimate futility of the whole ordeal. It's terrible because it merely serves as an opportunity for Gross to play his grandfather. It's terrible because it isn't the war movie many were led to believe it would be when it was announced.