Directed by: Cate Shortland.
Written by: Cate Shortland & Robin Mukherjee based on the novel by Rachel Seiffert.
Starring: Saskia Rosendahl (Lore), Nele Trebs (Liesel), André Frid (Günther), Mika Seidel (Jürgen), Kai-Peter Malina (Thomas), Nick Holaschke (Peter), Ursina Lardi (Mutti), Hans-Jochen Wagner (Vati).
There has never been a shortage of WWII movies – that started being made pretty much as soon as the war started, and have never really slowed down. But one aspect of the war that hasn’t had a lot of movies made about it is the lives of German children. True, Roberto Rossellini made a masterpiece on the subject shortly after the war ended – Germany Year Zero (1947), and occasionally we get a patronizing, borderline offensive movie like The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas (2008), but for the most part, filmmakers have chosen to focus on the combat itself, or the Holocaust for the subject of their movies – and not without good reason. German cinema has been slow to address Nazis and the Holocaust at all, so perhaps that helps explain the absence of these movies. Because German children are pretty much blameless in what happened in their country – they didn’t let or help Hitler rise to power, didn’t fight the war, and didn’t work at the Concentration Camps. All of this helps make Cate Shortland’s Lore, such a fascinating movie. Oddly, although the film is in German, it is an Australian film – but perhaps that lets the film have an outsider’s perspective that lets it see its characters more clearly.
The film starts just when the Allies have won and begun to occupy Germany. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is about 14, and the eldest of 5 children – a sister Liesel (Nele Trebs) on the cusp of puberty, twins Gunther and Jurgen, around 8, and baby Peter. Their father is a fairly high ranking SS Officer – what he does is never exactly clear, but as the film opens, he is burning all the documents he can, before he is arrested. He isn’t gone long before their mother, too, has to turn herself in. If she doesn’t, they just arrest her anyway. She tells Lore to take her siblings across the country to Grandma’s house – not knowing that the journey is going to be as treacherous as it turns out to be.
Lore is not an easy character to get a read on – she is often silent, and is focused on doing what she has to do to get her younger siblings to safety. They meet Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina) on the road, and he helps them. Lore immediately resents him, because she has seen his papers and knows that he is a Jew. Although she spews the hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric taught to her by her parents, her heart isn’t quite in it. She is deeply conflicted because on one hand, Thomas is who she has been taught to hate, yet on the other hand, he is helping them survive, and the rest of the kids – who don’t seem to know or care what a Jew is – love him so much. Thomas, like Lore, is hard to get a read on – he too is often silent, and watchful. The characters circle each other with a mixture of desire and repulsion.
Lore is a subtle movie – one that gradually introduces its theme of the blinders willfully worn by the German people throughout the war. Lore and her siblings can be forgiven – after all, they are only children, and children listen to what their parents tell them. They have led sheltered lives, and one gathers, a relatively happy one. Whenever they come to a town, and go the Allies for food, they are forced – along with all the other Germans – too look at pictures from the Concentration Camps, to see what has been done in their name. Most of the other Germans don’t believe the pictures – they think they were created by the Allies to scare them (“You never actually see anyone actually killing them, do you?” one remarks). Throughout the movie, they’ll come across one older person after another, lamenting the loss of the Fuhrer – and how “We let him down”. Lore doesn’t beat you over the head in these scenes, but lets them play out naturally. What they do to Lore is not made clear until the final scene – when she finally acts in defiance.
Lore takes on the mood of a fairy tale – but not the cheery ones we tell to children, but the darker, original tales. Like Little Red Riding Hood, these children head off through a forest filled with dangers on the way to Grandma’s house. Shortland’s direction, and the excellent cinematography, help highlight the dark fairy tale tone and atmosphere of the story.
Lore is not an easy film – it asks the audience to understand, if not sympathize, with a character who for most of the running time acts anything but sympathetic. That we do understand is a testament to Rosendahl’s remarkable performance, and Shortland’s subtle screenplay and direction. Lore is not an easy film, but it’s one worth watching and thinking about.