Lore” belongs to several sub-genres, one of which is the “children fending for themselves” storyline where an absent or dead parent forces the oldest of siblings to take on duties beyond their age range. Only in this case the children are Hitler Youth, two daughters and two sons of a high ranking Nazi official who are left alone when their parents are arrested for war crimes.
The other sub-genres in Australian director Cate Shortland’s second feature include the coming-of-age tale, Holocaust film, and teen romance, all combining into a hypnotic 90 minutes that nearly achieves the depth it hopes to reach.
The film opens with a house in disarray, as the mother tries to collect personal belongings and the father — a high ranking SS officer — burns as much of the evidence on the porch as he can. He also shoots the family dog, but, hey, he’s a Nazi after all.
When we first see the teenager Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) she is arising from her bath to witness all the commotion, and this theme of water will continue throughout the film, as she tries to wash off her guilt and complicity.
Soon, the children — twin boys Gunther and Jurgen (Andre Frid and Mika Seidel) and Lore’s younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs) — are traipsing across the Black Forest because, as the mother has told them, she’ll be waiting at their grandmother’s house. (They in fact do go over a river and through the woods through the course of the film.)
The landscape of post-War Germany portrayed in “Lore” is apocalyptic, and viewers may be reminded more of “The Road” or “Time of the Wolf” than any fond World War II movie. As they plod their way through a muddy and depopulated world, they come across corpses, abandoned homes, crazed grandmothers, and madness.
A young man called Thomas (Kai Malina) begins to follow them, and he becomes a sort of protector to them, despite being a Jew newly released from the camps. He is able to talk to the American troops and pass as their brother. Lore has to fight her racism and distrust while also battling her budding sexual interest in the mysterious Thomas.
Described this way, the plot does sound a bit generic, but Ms. Shortland avoids most of the narrative traps. (To explain how she does so would ruin the film’s end).
The real surprise of “Lore” is the dreamy, impressionistic camerawork by Adam Arkapaw and editing by Veronika Jenet, which really brings us into the head of its main character, with all its terror and naivete. Sometimes we feel like we are seeing flashes of remembered moods, textures, and visions from a future Lore, looking back on a traumatic period that she has tried to block out.
“Lore” is not a film with an easy moral thread. Lore does not suddenly have her anti-Semitism “cured” by meeting a helpful Jew. She gives no speeches. But we do realize that she has gone through a transformation by the end, although it may not be the roundly satisfying kind we’re used to.
* * *
Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina and Nele Trebs
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: Not Rated (contains violent images)
Playing at: Paseo Nuevo