In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of National Socialism and the arrest of their parents, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) and her siblings struggle alone across the German countryside to find their grandmother. Their harsh journey is reminiscent of a fairy tale, except here the enchantment has been replaced with utter bleakness.
Australian director Cate Shortland has succeeded in turning the green and luscious German countryside into a post-apocalyptic landscape devoid of colour, except for the rare flashes of blue in Lore’s eyes. Sound and dialogue are also minimal; the effect is an incredibly solemn, personal feel to the film and an ominous sense of uncertainty.
With a film like Lore, there is always a risk that the potential for controversy outshines the narrative. Shortland avoids this by making the characters and their confused emotional journey central to the film, rather than focusing on the more provocative aspects of National Socialism and German guilt. Lore’s feelings of guilt and shame grow as the film progresses, but the focus is always on how it affects her as a person, not as a German. That being said, a more succinct message to the film may have been a brave addition and provided more direction to the narrative.
The film has a chilling realness to it; due partly to the meticulous gathering of information carried out by Rachel Seifert, the author of ‘The Dark Room’ on which the film is based, and Shortland’s insistence on creating lengthy back stories for each actor. The decision to shoot the film in German instead of English also adds a great deal to its authenticity, and the performances from the young actors is startlingly genuine and incredibly moving.
The relationship between Lore and Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), a Jewish boy who saves Lore from the brink of death and uses his Jewish passport to transport the siblings across the new borders, is compelling and uncomfortably tense. While Thomas is still coming to terms with the abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of the Nazis, Lore is realising everything she held to be true about Germany and the Jewish people is a fallacy. Rosendahl plays the character of Lore to perfection – she transforms from a pitiful and, at times, detestable character to a strong, yet damaged, dissenter; shown in the poignant massacre of her grandmother’s china deer collection.
Lore is a film with a lot of heart, but mostly just heartbreak. It is a valiant effort to depict the little told stories of the vulnerable Germans, faced with the moral bankruptcy of their nation and the role of their loved ones as perpetrators, while struggling to survive in a devastated landscape. By the end of the film, all that remains are the unsettling remnants of National Socialism, and the bruises Lore has endured in her journey from absolute indoctrination, to the mayhem that comes hand-in-hand with her realisation of the truth.