Canada split on ‘Passchendaele’

Gross' WWI epic a hit and a bomb at box office

So much for rapprochement.

“Passchendaele,” a pricey World War I epic, has taken the Canadian B.O. by storm becoming that rarest of creatures — a bona fide English-Canadian hit. But the pic bombed at the wickets in French Canada, with Quebec moviegoers making it abundantly clear they have little interest in a drama about folks from Calgary fighting in the trenches in France during the Great War.

“The theme has no resonance here,” says Simon Beaudry, prexy of Montreal-based box office tracking firm Cineac. “But it’s an important story for English Canada and it hasn’t been treated in Canadian film before.”

“Passchendaele,” distributed by Alliance Films, has so far taken in $2.6 million at the B.O., to become one of the biggest English-Canadian success stories of the past couple of years. But it has rung-up a paltry $108,000 in Quebec, and its run there is almost finished.

The $17 million film is produced, written and directed by Paul Gross of “Due South” fame. Gross, one of Canada’s best-known thesps, also stars as a soldier from Calgary who falls in love with a young nurse played by Caroline Dhavernas (“Wonderfalls”).

Industry observers say the soft perf in la belle province confirms the extent of Canada’s split personality. “It didn’t translate as well there because of the cultural divide,” says Alliance Films exec VP Mike Rudnitsky.

Quebecers, in fact, were more enthused about French-language film “Le Deserteur,” based on the true story of a young Quebecois man who deserted the Canadian Army during WWII and was later shot in the back by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The pic has made nearly twice as much in Quebec as “Passchendaele.”

It’s only fitting that a sympathetic portrayal of a WWII deserter is popular in Quebec, given that Quebecers voted massively against the draft in WWI.

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