Lore tells a bleak, uncommon, and harrowing tale of a Nazi siblings traverse across war-ravaged Germany in search of their grandmother's home following the imprisonment of their parents. Directed by Australian director Cate Shortland (AFI winner for Somersault), and written by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee, this international co-production screened at the Sydney Film Festival as part of the Official Competition. Recently Lore won the Audience Award at the Locarno Film Festival, and is set to screen at this month's Toronto International Film Festival. Featuring a breakthrough role from Saskia Rosendahl, this is a stirring and emotionally resonating war drama that comes highly recommended.
Lore is set during 1945 and the fall of the German resistance. With their SS father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and mother (Ursina Lardi) imprisoned by American and Russian forces, and abandoned to face an uncertain fate, Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl) takes charge of the rest of her family - her younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), twins Jurgen (Mika Seidel) and Gunther (Andrei Frid) and baby brother, Peter - guiding them across the perilous countryside towards their grandmother's house in Hamburg. On the road the children face the punishing conditions, experience distressing sights and find their health suffer, and along the way Hannelore begins to better understand the consequences of her parents' actions, come of age, and accept responsibility for her family.
Lore tells an uncommon tale set during an accurately recreated historical period. At the centre of this tale is Lore, our complex heroine. Having been raised in privilege and taught that Jews are not to be trusted and an enemy to her family, she is reluctant to allow Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), a young man they discover hiding out in an abandoned house, to become their traveling companion. Initially, when he follows the group from a distance, Lore resists his attempts to reach out to her, but ultimately becomes drawn to him out of comfort and sexual desire and he assists them on several occasions; most importantly passing through patrols.
Lore begins to understand what is required for her family to make it, offering up scraps of jewellery and even sexual favors. Thomas aids them without any expected compensation, but his Jewish papers present a challenge to Lore's morality. Her innocence is almost completely lost over the course of the journey, as her confusing adolescent emotions begin to influence her decisions. Sympathising with these characters could have been difficult, but it remains emotionally involving because we understand that the children are innocent and have been raised to accept their parents' political affiliations. Understanding that the children need to have some hope, Lore doesn't reveal their parents' fates, and as a result they are so confused by the situation that they believe they will again be united with their parents at their grandmother's house.
The tense atmosphere - which captures a reality as grim as they come and offers up a suffocating level of foreboding - is beautifully conveyed in the stunning photography courtesy of Adam Arkapaw (Snowtown and Animal Kingdom), one of Australia's best DP's. You feel every step the children make through the mud, and can almost smell the stench of death surrounding them. Lore is also very effectively scored by Max Richter, and the young actors all deliver mature performances. Rosendahl, especially, is outstanding. She is a young actress to watch after this career-defining role.
The conclusion is powerful because it is evident how much Lore has changed - coming to terms with her family's accountability and adjusting her own prejudices having learned that they never would have made it without the aid of Thomas, considered a friendly to the American forces. The emotions that weigh on her having turned Thomas away, knowing that he would not be welcomed to her grandmother's house, involves heartbreaking revelation. This is a satisfying and very well crafted film from Cate Shortland, and having not seen Somersault, I'd now like to see from where her vision has evolved.
My Rating: ★★★★ (B+)