Lore (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Artificial Eye) Running time: 108 minutes approx.
The Second World War has come to an end With the Allies now in control of Gerrmany, Nazi soldier (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and his wife (Ursina Lardi) flee with their young family – fifteen-year-old Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl), younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), twins Jurgen (Miki Siedel) and Gunther (Andre Frid) and baby Peter (Nick Holaschke). The father is soon shot while the mother, upon learning of Hitler’s death, surrenders to the American, leaving her children to fend for themselves and the instruction to head to their grandmother’s home in Hamburg.
The second feature from Australian writer/director Cate Shortland is based on a portion of the novel The Dark Room by British author Rachel Seiffert, and while films about World War II are a dozen to a penny, this one has the distinction of exploring an overlooked part of this period – the fallout of the war. The main spoken language may be German and the story stems from a British writer but this film possesses a sparse and bucolic feel that is prominent in a lot of Australian cinema.
While the horrors of war have been well documented from all perspectives, Lore shows us that they don’t end with the call of a truce or the death of the instigator. Our junior protagonists are forced out of the comfort of their Nazi funded home and into a world alien to them, discovering a country that is in ruins physically, emotionally and philosophically.
Without a leader or an army to protect them, the German people are now a weak nation living in fear of the Allied Forces, living rough to avoid capture and imprisonment. Lore and her siblings try to attach themselves to these groups but find it impossible to stay because of these reason, so they go it alone, finding limited success after being chased out by other nomads and the squalid living conditions they find.
Having been brought up under the tenets of the Fuhrer the kids naturally cling onto their fascist teachings, as some others have done, including their hatred for Jews. This is unfortunate as the one person who helps them on their way, gives them food, shelter, protection and sets them on the way to their grandmother’s house, is Thomas (Kai Malina) a Jewish lad.
His motives for helping Lore and the kids are never really made explicit, although an early suggestion it is out of attraction for Lore is quickly forgotten, leaving the idea that this is a simple act of altruism on Thomas’s towards for a group of lost children. Lore should, of course, be grateful for Thomas as being Jewish affords him a lot of leeway with the Allies, otherwise she and her kin would have been mincemeat long ago. But trust between the two parties is a slow bridge to build.
In many ways this is a coming of age story with a tragic impetus to that personal growth of the young cast, although this is largely significant for Lore and Liesel. It what is very much a case of the “sins of the father” for Lore and her family, having spent their young lives being indoctrinated with Nazi rhetoric, they believed their father was a war hero and Hitler was their deity. The horrors and atrocities they witness with their own eyes and discover through Allied propaganda is a stark wake up call as to the truths that have been hidden from them, and over time they begin to re-evaluate their opinions, finding it hard to know what to believe.
The biggest disappointment has to be the pedestal on which they had placed their parents, and the shock of learning that the man they thought was a hero was in fact a mass murderer is devastating for the two girls; the younger boys are oblivious to this and see this whole journey as an adventure, never understanding the harsh decisions Lore has to make to ensure and secure their safety.
The trials and tribulations on the children are reflected by the demands put on the young cast and Cate Shortland chose well in filling this roles. Saskia Rosendahl is a dancer making her acting debut and she impresses from the first moment she appears on screen. As much as Lore goes on a huge personal journey so does Rosendahl and one can see her confidence and her abilities as an actor grow as the film progresses. Lore endures much physical and emotional duress and the performance is both nuanced and committed, as if each scar and bruise (physical and emotional) is a badge of honour for every obstacle over come and for the actress, every scene completed.
The even younger cast members also seem to be very aware of what is expected of them and their natural bewilderment is serendipitous for Shortland, as it plays in exceptionally with the reactions of the characters. Offering solid if brooding support for Rosendahl is Kai Malina as Thomas, the most difficult character to read which adds a layer of intrigue to the situation.
Despite its bleak subject matter and many scenes of harrowing imagery, Shortland presents us with a very visually bright and attractive film, in particular the stunning shots of the various shades of green of the German countryside. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw is to be applauded for providing such luscious shots, but there are times when this feels a little indulgent and incongruous, with a number of randomly placed shots that make the viewer feel they are looking at a nature photo album of Polaroid pictures.
Again, visually pleasing just a tad clashing with the austere and gloomy premise of the story – although they may have been an intentional move by Shortland.
Lore is a bold and interesting film for exploring a well worn topic from a different angle. It suffers from a slow start and slightly askew narrative in places but overall an emotionally challenging and worthwhile viewing experience.
Interview with Director Cate Shortland
Rating – ****
Man In Black