By Christopher Bourne
The historical period of World War II, especially those aspects dealing with the war in Germany and the Holocaust, has been seemingly inexhaustible source material for many films, both fictional and documentary, that have appeared after the end of the war. However, at this late date, truly fresh and novel perspectives have been rather hard to come by. But remarkably, Lore, the second feature by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, does give us a unique point of view on this history: a perspective from the offspring of those who perpetrated the worst genocidal crimes of the war. This alone would make Lore worth seeing, even if there were no other reason to recommend it. Fortunately, this film has many more admirable qualities going for it, and one is left with an indelibly haunting cinematic experience.
Lore takes place in Germany at the very end of World War II, in the chaotic days following Hitler’s suicide, during which high-ranking German soldiers, who have now become hunted war criminals, are fleeing the Allied forces who are after them. At the start of the film, Vati (Hans-Jochen Wagner), a high-ranking Nazi officer, and his wife Mutti (Ursina Lardi) are frantically burning papers and destroying all evidence of their crimes as they round up their children to leave their home. The eldest of their children is their daughter Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), who initially finds it difficult to understand why her previously comfortable and privileged existence should be so violently upended. She has been indoctrinated with her parents’ ideology, and continues to hold out belief in the Third Reich’s eventual victory.
Harsh realities slowly begin to puncture the illusions Lore has lived with all her life. Her father, who leaves the family first, is eventually captured by the Allies. Lore’s mother, before she leaves them to surrender to the Allies, puts Lore in charge of her siblings and sends them away from their home in Bavaria to their grandmothers’ house in Hamburg, some five hundred miles away. They must undertake this journey mostly on foot, traversing a dangerous, apocalyptic landscape littered with corpses, and fraught with increasing starvation and other privations. Lore feels she must lie to her siblings, in much the same way that her parents have lied to her about the terrible crimes they have committed, in order to preserve some sort of innocence for them, the same innocence she is now losing.
A crucial turning point in this journey occurs when she meets Thomas (Kai Malina), a young man with Jewish identity papers, who saves her from being taken in by the Allies by convincing them that they are all Holocaust survivors. Thomas joins Lore and her siblings, guiding them through increasingly treacherous terrain that eventually has them traversing the Black Forest. Lore struggles emotionally with this, torn between her attraction to this young man and the anti-Semitism which has been instilled in her since birth. As Lore makes her way to her destination, her growing realization of the all the lies she has been told, and the secrets that have been kept from her by her family, convinces her that no one she knows can be trusted.
Cate Shortland adapted Lore with co-screenwriter Robin Mukherjee from Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room, and she has created an atmospheric and intimately scaled film that paradoxically gives a sense of claustrophobia despite the fact that it mostly takes place outdoors. Its microscopically intense focus on its titular protagonist is well served by the star-making performance of lead actress Saskia Rosendahl, who is a commanding screen presence, fascinatingly essaying a rather forbidding and unlikable character. As much a star as Rosendahl is the lushly evocative cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom), which richly captures the mysterious and haunting Grimm’s fairy tale-like quality of its German locations, especially the Black Forest sequences.
Lore, arriving eight years after Shortland’s 2004 award-winning debut film Somersault, confirms the great talent of this director, and has itself won a slew of awards. Shortland provocatively gives us the reverse angle on the terrible crimes of the Holocaust, from the point of view of those closest to the perpetrators. She leaves us with a disturbing but illuminating view of the effects of genocidal ideology on the children of the criminals, and how this has perhaps permanently damaged their psyches.
Lore is now playing at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Angelika or Lincoln Plaza websites.
Lincoln Plaza: http://www.lincolnplazacinema.com/