LORE. Starring Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina. Directed by Cate Shortland. Rated MA 15+ (Strong themes and infrequent violence). 104 minutes.
This is her first feature film since director Cate Shortland won so many 2004 Australian Film Institute awards for her debut feature film, Somersault. Lore is quite an unanticipated follow-up in terms of story, themes and the decision to film this German story in Germany and in German. (This has enabled Lore to be Australia’s submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award.)
Lore is Hannelore, the oldest daughter of five children. Their parents are Germans, the father having fought in Belarus, the mother a mysterious figure. There are glimpses of swastikas and pictures of Hitler. Then comes the news that Hitler is dead. We realise that the mother and father are aware that they will be imprisoned. They want their children to escape the American invaders. There is a moment when the parents burn their documents with a glimpse of a cover which may indicate that one or other was involved in medical experiments.
Most of the film is the trek of the children from the Black Forest to Hamburg to the home of their grandmother.
This survival trek is interesting in itself. How does a teenage girl cope with a younger sister, younger twin boys and a baby? Shelter, food, washing, hostile people? Some money and jewellery to obtain desperately needed food? Hardship in finding ruined buildings, sleeping in the forest? Cate Shortland presents all these hardships with a blend of surreal suggestion (mountains and mists) as well as realism.
Along the way, they are helped by a young man, Thomas, who tells them to say he is their older brother. Lore sees that there is a yellow Jewish star in his documents. This challenges her beliefs. Lore and her family are Nazis. The children have been part of the Hitler youth. They have presumed that the Third Reich would prevail and their realization that Germany has been occupied by Americans, Russians, French and British defies Lore’s comprehension. Interestingly, with Thomas helping the children, befriending them, finding food, caring for the baby, they adapt to Thomas, whoever he is.
But, there are some twists in the screenplay which means that this journey is not entirely predictable. One of the complexities is Lore’s beginning of sexual awareness and her response to Thomas, sensually but in disgust because he is a Jew. She has moments of bigoted, stereotypical outbursts of anti-Semitism. There is a later, surprising development in terms of Thomas’ papers. Another complication is an act of brutality which means that Lore is saved from attack but which disturbs her in terms of responsibility and conscience. The audience is given another shock, some violence as they journey through the Russian territory.
When they finish their journey, the focus is still on Lore and what this trek has meant in terms of her attitudes towards life and her family, to traditions and all that she has taken for granted and can no longer believe in.
One of the most moving of post-war films was Fred Zinneman’s The Search (1948) where a Czech mother travels over bomb-ravaged central Europe looking for her son. We had been attuned to sympathizing with the refugee-victims of Nazism. We have not been attuned to refugees, Nazi survivors – the leaders, yes, smuggled out of Germany, especially to Latin America, but not the children. How much sympathy do they deserve? How should they be helped? And what would their experiences contribute to their growing up and their future? Some of the questions we are left with at the end of Lore.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 20 2012.