OTTAWA - The $20-million war film Passchendaele - the most expensive
movie made in Canada - was written and directed by Paul Gross, who also
stars in the film and who also wrote the song that's played over the
"He even wanted to play my part, but I said,
'Paul, I think you should let go,'" laughs Caroline Dhavernas, the
30-year-old Quebec actress who co-stars as Sarah, the pretty nurse who
falls in love with Gross's First World War soldier.
is a bold experiment in Canadian cinema for its cost and its scope, and
it could also be a breakthrough for Dhavernas. She has had small roles
in big Hollywood films - as the Girl Friday to private detective Adrien
Brody in Hollywoodland, for instance - and big roles in smaller
Canadian films - Niagara Motel, Surviving My Mother, and many others.
She is probably most familiar for her TV work: she was Marilyn Bell in
a TV movie about the young swimmer and she played the lead in
Wonderfalls, a short-lived Fox series, as a woman who works in a
Niagara Falls gift shop and communicates with inanimate objects.
The epic Canadian war film is something new.
never heard of Passchendaele before, so I think that's one of the
reasons it's so important to tell this story," Dhavernas said in Ottawa
recently, on the eve of a gala that launched a countrywide publicity
tour for the film. The film opens Oct. 17.
"Because most people
don't even know about it. We do know more about the Second World War
than the first. It was a big victory for this country and I think it's
the story of the sacrifice of these men and women who gave everything
for this cause. To me that's what the heart of the movie is and I think
that's why people respond to that aspect.
"I've never been very
pro-war - not at all actually - and I'm always trying to find a reason
to find something human in it. I think that's what it is: It's the
camaraderie between the boys and the women who were there to serve as
well, nurses, that's what's beautiful about war. It's what happens
between men and women who were there."
Her character is a damaged
woman who meets Gross's soldier when he returns to Calgary with
post-traumatic stress disorder. They fall in love, and then find
themselves sent overseas. They have a fateful reunion in Passchendaele,
at the Belgian battlefield where thousands fought and died in the mud
and squalor of trench warfare. It was a battle that helped define the
country and made Canadian troops legendary for their courage and
For Dhavernas, though, the initial attraction was the script's love story.
very epic female characters to me are the same and I think in this one
there's an edge that's very interesting . She's just very broken and so
is he and they find each other in this time, in their country, when the
most horrible atrocities are happening, and give each other the
strength to get through it. And I think they're both completely broken
and there's this chemistry that comes from that place where they
understand each other and what they've been through."
the battle scenes, in fields near Calgary, gave Dhavernas a taste of
what the real thing must have been like, even though she says the
actors only experience "a tenth of a millionth of what it was." But
standing in the cold water of muddy trenches, she says, provides an
echo of what the real thing must have been like.
you when you least expect it. In the middle of a scene sometimes. When
you're feeling everything, that you remember people went through that
for real. And still do. Right now."
Dhavernas is the daughter of
Quebec actors Sebastien Dhavernas - a Liberal candidate in the
Outremont riding in the federal election - and Michele Deslauriers. She
started in the business when she was eight years old, dubbing Babar
cartoons, and got her first movie role when she was 11, in the 1990
film Comme un voleur.
It's not unusual for her to go on publicity
tours, but most of them have been through Quebec by bus. The
cross-Canada tour by plane is both new and welcome, because she's been
in other Canadian films that don't have the money for such promotion,
and often fail because people just don't hear about them.
it falls at the last step of publicity it's always so heartbreaking for
me because for me it's just a couple of months of my life but for the
director - mostly with directors who write the movies - it's years of
their lives," she says. "It's a crucial part of making a movie.
once we have the budget for a Canadian film and the interest, because
it's the pride of the nation, it's a moment in history that we
celebrate, it's Paul: He's a huge star in Canada."
is the first time Dhavernas worked with a co-star who was also the
director, and she says she was impressed with Gross's ability to focus
"I was impressed by the amount of energy had," she says. "There wasn't a minute when he had nothing to do."
There just wasn't time for him to play the nurse.