After her Nazi parents are imprisoned, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) leads her younger siblings across a war-torn Germany in 1945. Amidst the chaos, she encounters mysterious refugee Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who shatters her fragile reality with hatred and desire. To live, she must trust someone she was taught to hate and face the darkness within herself.
Review by Louise Keller:
Like her acclaimed 2004 debut film Somersault, Cate Shortland's German-language film Lore is about concealed emotions and secrets. Directed and shot in a similar visual style, in which colours and textures, music and emotions play a pivotal role, this co-production from Australia, Germany and Britain, is an intimate study in the loss of innocence. Just as Somersault launched Abbie Cornish's career, Lore will no doubt do the same for lovely German newcomer Saskia Rosendahl, whose sensitive and poignant performance captures every complexity.
Adapted from a novel by Rachel Seiffert and set in the aftermath of Hitler's Germany, Lore is a coming of age story of a young girl burdened with the uncompromising weight of responsibility. It's a touching and often heartbreaking journey; with each of life's harsh lessons comes another irreparable scar.
The setting is the only thing that is tranquil at the country house where Lore (Rosendahl) is asked by her mother (Ursina Lardi) to collect the family silver, while she throws books about hereditary diseased children into the bonfire outside. The sound of a single gunshot indicates the fate of the family dog. There's a sense of near hysteria as the tension between her mother and S.S. Officer father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) rises and there is a sense of uncertainty as to what is about to happen.
The telltale moment comes when Lore's mother, face aghast, reacts to the news of a man's death. Lore's naivety shows as she asks if it is her father; it's Hitler. The realisation that her mother is not going to return home strikes us at the same time as it does Lore. Epitomising the perfect Aryan, with her blonde features, blue eyes and refined nature, there is no time to think; Lore is now the minder and provider for her four young siblings, including the baby.
Death and desperation is everywhere: emaciated Holocaust bodies in photographs, a dead man with a gun in his hand, a woman with blood between her legs. As Lore and the children make the long journey from the Black Forest to her grandmother's house near Hamburg, the roads and forests are pitted with endless hurdles. Exchanging silver for food is just the beginning. The more precious items (like her mother's ring and the little china deer ornament) are kept until last.
By the time Lore takes the watch from a dead man's wrist, we know she has begun to learn the currency of survival. But it is her recognition of sex as currency that is the film's most heartfelt element together with her conflicted emotions for Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), the young Jewish man to whom she becomes indebted.
Shortland involves us in Lore's world by making us feel as though we are there. We care about her; we are shocked by the position into which she has been placed; we want her to make the right decisions. The flies buzz, the leaves crunch underfoot and mushrooms sit nonchalantly. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is haunting, showcasing the beautiful German locations, while Shortland envelops us in the troubled and complex world of Lore, whose eventual realization of the cost to her privileged upbringing is devastating.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Cate Shortland's exploration of the themes and subject matter of Rachel Seiffert's novel The Dark Room seems to match perfectly the book's fragmented exploration of these complex and painful issues. These being to do with the shattered, inexplicable nature of self for children of perpetrators - in this case Nazis. Shortland shows us images, often in close up, of just things that 'are', from objects to elements of nature, as part of the film's cinematic language.
But that's not to say the film is an experimental work or that it is incoherent, because despite the storytelling structure, it is clear to us what is happening, and why. The latter is more important, though, in Shortland's view. The emotional journey is of greater import than the physical one, which the five siblings undertake in the immediate aftermath of the end of World War II, seeking to reach the haven of their grandparents' house in Hamburg, all the way from the Black Forest. Their parents will not be coming for them, as Lore knows and the others gradually discover.
Saskia Rosendahl delivers a remarkable portrayal of Lore, old enough to know something of the political setting of her high ranking German SS father, but too young to deal with the real life ramifications of it. The impact of her confused emotions is underlined when she and her siblings are helped by a young stranger - who turns out to be a Jew - Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who is also excellent. The entire cast, including the youngest children, deliver riveting, authentic performances, even the hungry baby who has a lot of crying to do.
The often incomprehensible behaviour of human beings is taken from the book and left as observations, with no attempt to somehow resolve them or answer the questions they raise. That's why many mainstream audiences might find the film confronting, used as we are to films wrapping up the loose ends. Real life doesn't have that much wrapping ....
Shortland's film is nuanced, careful to avoid the potential traps of cliché or caricature, and to speak in images as much as possible. This is where audiences are allowed some respite from the dense and intense atmosphere of 1945 Germany, where some weep for the death of their Fuhrer, life is dangerous and survival can depend on terrible decisions that are made. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is sensitive and provides us with beautiful images as well as painful ones. Together with Max Richter's score, Lore is given every opportunity to engage and haunt our cinematic memories.
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CATE SHORTLAND INTERVIEW
CAST: Saskia Rosendahl, Nele Trebs, Andre Frid, Mika Seidel, Kai-Peter Malina, Nick Holaschke, Ursina Lardi, Hans-Jochan Wagner, Sven Pippig, Philip Wiegratz, Katrin Pollitt, Hendrik Arnst, Claudia Geisler
PRODUCER: Karsten Stöter, Liz Watts, Paul Welsh, Benny Drechsel
DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
SCRIPT: Cate Shortland, Robin Mukherjee (novel by Rachel Seiffert)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Arkapaw
EDITOR: Veronika Jenet
MUSIC: Max Richter
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jochen Dehn, Silke Fischer
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 20, 2012