Cate Shortland’s quietly powerful sophomore film, Lore (2012), is set in Germany during the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. This German-Australian co-production, based on the middle section of Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel The Dark Room, is told from the perspective of a young German girl who has to come to terms with her nation’s defeat and the horrors committed in the name of the Führer. We follow teenager Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) as she travels with her four siblings from Bavaria, across war-devastated Germany, to find refuge with her grandmother in Hamburg. Lore’s father is a high ranking SS officer.
Through marriage, her mother is also directly implicated in the Holocaust. In the dying days of the war, Lore’s father returns home, packs up his stuff, burns a lot of incriminating evidence and then disappears, presumably to an internment camp. Lore’s mother gives herself up for arrest shortly afterwards leaving behind her baby, Peter, and other younger children in Lore’s care. The only instruction she gives her eldest daughter is to head for her grandmother’s home.
The children set off with a pram full of their meagre possessions, the last of their mother’s money and some of her jewellery to sell. They sleep rough, endure near starvation and encounter rotting corpses as well as other German refugees who, like them, are trying to survive – some are belligerently in denial, others are just glad the war is over. Then the family meet Thomas, a young man with Jewish papers. By pretending to be their brother he helps them pass through the various army checkpoints. At first Lore despises him for being Jewish, but also finds herself strangely attracted to him.
Towards the end of their journey she has become desperately dependent on him and his protection. It’s a rite of passage for Lore. At the beginning she is a committed anti-Semite; a product of her parents’ rabid hatred. By the end, her experiences may not have completely transformed her sympathies but she is irretrievably altered. Travelling across her defeated homeland has made her aware of some of the atrocities that have taken place and the terrible complicity of her own family.
Adam Arkapaw’s impressive cinematography contrasts the lush German countryside with bleaker images of war, and Lore is beautifully shot, evocative and chilling throughout. Furthermore, newcomer Rosendahl is utterly convincing in the title role. Shortland treats her dark subject matter with sensitivity and has produced an unflinching and compelling portrait of the Nazi legacy.
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