Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina, Nele Trebs, Ursina Lardi
(UK theatrical: 22 Feb 2013)
There was a thing such as good Germans during WWII and this seems to be the entire premise behind Lore, but then again, not really. It’s easy to see how people will most likely be offended and shocked by the notion that stories taking in place in Germany during the war don’t necessarily have to vilify every single person in the country and as such Lore might be one of the most controversial movies released this year.
The film is Cate Shortland’s sophomore effort after her multi awarded Somersault, which came out almost ten years ago. Like she did in her debut, she proves she has a rare kind of sensitivity that bypasses all notions of cheap sentimentality in search of a bigger truth. Lore (played by Saskia Rosendahl) is the name of the heroine in this story, a teenager who suddenly has to become caretaker to her younger siblings after their wealthy Nazi parents are taken away by the triumphant Allied forces.
The destitute band of children are forced to travel by foot cross the Black Forest all the way to their grandma’s house in Husum Bay. Along the way they endure inclement weather, hunger and eventually meet Thomas (Kai Malina) a fellow wandering traveler, who also happens to be a Jew. The film is mostly seen through Lore’s point of view and we see how she encounters an upside down version of the world she grew up in.
The very first scenes of the movie show how devoted her father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is to her, and when she eventually finds herself realizing she might need to offer her body to a man in exchange for food, we come to see a violent reversal of values. This comes as a sad realization to Lore, who not only has to act like an adult but is also doing this while coming to terms that her body and soul are changing. Can she be attracted to Thomas if he’s a Jew? Is she betraying her parents for letting him help them? Has everything she regarded so highly before suddently obsolete?
Based on one of the novellas in Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room, Lore is a stunning work that combines the coming of age genre with something darker and much more sinister leading us to wonder the nature of political awakenings. In a way this movie would comprise a brilliant trilogy about the story of Nazism with The White Ribbon and Cabaret. Haneke’s movie would provide us with an hypothesis of how evil came to be in a country that otherwise had seemed so peaceful, Fosse’s musical would show us how this evil rose and took over without people knowing what hit them and Shortland’s movie would take a look at what occurred after it was overthrown. Brilliantly enough, none of these movies ever feature Nazis perpetrating acts of violence, they only imply them, leading us to try and empathize with a society that had chosen this.
There are moments in Lore that achieve a sort of lyrical beauty that make us think of classic fables (the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw is magnificent and Max Richter’s, Glass-influenced score adds a haunting nature to the piece). As we see these children crossing a giant forest we are led to think even for a second or so that they will encounter magical creatures, when the truth is all they find are corpses and obstacles. Shortland captures the loss of innocence with daring insight, and yes, reminds us that Nazi children were children too.
A comment overheard outside the screening for this movie had a visibly angry man ask out loud “so now we have to feel sorry for Nazis?” and at least according to this movie the answer is no, we don’t. What Shortland does in Lore is explore a side of WWII that no one dares to even speak about. Not for a single second does she defend Nazism or the Holocaust, she in fact alludes to the fact that these children probably had no idea about what the adults were up to, and if they did know, what was expected of them? Could they overthrow a system that had made them grow up to hate a common enemy? Why would they care about what the rest of the world had to say when their parents told them everything would be alright?
That Shortland observes this without a single judgment will most like upset many people, but then again, to these people, one can’t do anything else but to ask the following question: should the children of Nazis have been executed along with their parents? It’s interesting that the heroine’s name is spelled in the same way as the English word for knowledge. We might not leave the movie thinking different about Nazism, but we most definitely leave the theater thinking.