Lore, directed by Cate Shortland (and based upon a section of Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room) follows a group of German siblings as they trek across borders to their grandmother’s house in Husum after their parents are arrested by Allied Forces during the ending days of the Second World War. As the film starts, we see the family packing up and burning any incriminating evidence. The family moves into a cabin in the Black Forest in Southwestern Germany and the father leaves them to confront those who are currently hunting him. For a brief period of time, the mother becomes the head of the family but always seems as if she is mentally in another place. Caught between guilt, anger and sorrow, she finally gives up when she learns what happened to her husband. As she is also arrested for being a Nazi, the children are left in the control of their eldest sister, Lore played by Saskia Rosendahl who portrays one of the most powerful and heart felt performances of the year.
Their mother leaves instructions with Lore to get the train to Hamburg and make their way to their grandmothers, with the little money they have and the few pieces of jewellery she leaves behind. Here starts the main journey of the film. The siblings, behind Lore, start to hike across the forest and towards the trains when they learn they have been cut off and Germany has been divided into different parts, split amongst the British, American and Russian, all of whom have different laws and require that everyone has papers. Along the way they meet Thomas (Kai Malina) who helps the group for as long as he can, but despite the sexual tension between him and Lore, we never quite learn exactly who he is and where he has come from.
Lore is a powerfully emotional and beautifully filmed drama, which appears to try and change the face of the war film. Despite years of cinema looking at stories of people caught in the Second World War, this was the first that I had seen (since Schindler’s List) where the filmmaker is taking the time to look at the German side of the war and where the German people were left once the war was close to being over. Although Lore and her siblings are lied to by their parents, they still believe that a German victory is coming, their journey through obscurity strengthens them and makes them learn on their own that people aren’t always who they say they are and that the fight may not necessarily be for the best.
The performances, especially that of Rosendahl as the title character of Lore highlights the excellence of the piece. She starts the film getting out of the bath and represents an innocent cleanliness. She is under the impression from her parents that the German fight is for the best and their victory will be coming. As they move into the darkness of the forest, Lore starts to understand things a little clearer and her relationship with her mother becomes strained and they swap places as Lore becomes the new head of the family. Rosendahl’s performance was spectacular because she plays a character who is so unsure of everything at the start and by the end of her journey she realises everything for what it is. She pulls on the heart strings of the audience throughout, by trying to find the best ways to look after her family and guard them from hurt. When she meets Thomas, she is instantly cautious of him and even more so when she learns he is a Jew. She is still under the impression that Jews are filthy and tries her hardest to drive him away but when she realises he is there for them and without them they possibly would have all died, she breaks down in tears and tries to keep him with them. Not only do the character go on a physical journey throughout the film, but they all, especially Lore, go on a mental journey moving from the apparent German victory to a sense of revelation and the need to wipe the slate clean.
Shortland’s direction is masterful throughout the film, with many of the sequences being highlighted by their surroundings. She picks up on the delicacy of life and uses the surroundings to embody the emotions of the characters. Concentrating on certain aspects of the world like nature, she brings her characters in line with our base instinct as humans to survive and aligns them with animals. She is careful not to alienate the audience by focusing too much on meanings and allegories, but does spend brief moments breaking the narrative to explore the surroundings. Almost as many of the emotions in the film aren’t spoken by the characters but instead are seen in the stunning locations and careful filmmaking, which neither judges nor alleviates the feelings of those involved and attached to the war.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the theme of journeys is integral to the piece because not only do the audience follow the characters on a physical journey, but also practically every character goes on their own mental journey as well. Lore loses her solid grounding provided by her parents, and during one of the most emotional scenes in the film whilst she is trying to persuade Thomas to stay with the family she tells him that she now realises everything was a lie. Combining the movement from one thought to another and Shortland’s direction, the imagery of the film appears as a compass for the wrong morals that the children have learnt. What are they meant to now believe about the war, about the Nazis, Hitler and the Jews because everything they once knew has now been pulled out from under them.
An interesting thing about Lore, which got me thinking throughout was whether the film is prone to making us sympathise with the Germans and specifically with the girl, who very clearly has been brought up to despise certain groups and support where she has come from but I found myself thinking so much more about the commentary on brainwashing and what happens when the ideology, which once seemed so strong is being ripped apart in front of ones eyes.
Combining beautiful images, some of the best performances of the year and a story so heartfelt that so many people can honestly sympathise and understand how you feel when you learn something you always believed was a lie, Lore becomes something so much more than a war film and instead becomes a commentary of relationships and our interactions with our own morals. Highly recommended and stunningly shot, certainly make sure you catch it.