Home Video Hovel: Lore, by Scott Nye
As great premises go, they hardly come more intriguing than Lore’s – as Nazi Germany begins to fall, the family of a high-ranking official (who’s never seen) begins to go on the run for fear of arrest. After the mother departs, it falls to the oldest of the children, Lore (newcomer Saskia Rosendahl) to look out for the other four as they journey, by foot, to their grandmother’s house some five hundred miles away. In order to survive, they accept the assistance of Thomas (Kai Malina), a young Jewish concentration camp survivor, towards whom Lore comes to be drawn for more than just survival.
Co-writer/director Cate Shortland unspools this tale with a deft hand, cannily revealing exposition and plot details without using very much dialogue, which has two very effective results. First, it lets the audience experience the story more directly, and second, in a thematic sense, it reveals that once all the institutions of even basic communication are removed, once Lore’s propaganda language no longer has any meaning, and the search for food and shelter is all that matters, there are none of the lines drawn all across Europe during the war, but most sharply between Nazis and the Jewish people.
Rosendahl is given a massive burden in carrying this picture mostly on her own, fitting for the (much more extreme) weight Lore herself has to carry, but both handle it very well. By establishing how thoroughly and unthinkingly she has come to rely on her privileged position, the dwindling power that holds moves quickly from being an intellectually curious comeuppance towards an involving, heartbreaking restructuring of priorities. Even near the beginning, when her mother moves the family to a nearby farm, a simple “Heil Hitler” to the farmhands doesn’t produce the desired result, and Rosendahl registers both the confusion and embarrassment a teen would feel when they realize how constructed their sense of power really was.
She undergoes a much more physical transformation once life in the woods becomes the de facto state, illustrating every physical toll – outward and inward – such a trek would take. There’s a little bit of dissonance in this respect, in that her younger siblings, played by, naturally, younger actors, were not given as thorough a job in the make-up chair, making it at first seem as though she’s been struck by some sort of more intense disease, but nevertheless, it becomes quite horrifying. All the while, she’s drawn closer and closer towards a forbidden attraction to Thomas, creating a sharp, fascinating tension, wherein, in addition to relying so tightly on him for survival, calls into question the still-violent anti-Semitic beliefs she still so clearly holds. The film lets her off the hook a little bit for this towards the end, but through a device that also reveals just how thoroughly her once-prominent position in society has been eviscerated.
This is Shortland’s second feature film, and, while I haven’t seen her first, Somersault (it’s on Netflix Instant, and is now in my queue!), I’m very excited about seeing what she has to bring to the table in the years to come. This is a taut, well-observed, gorgeously-directed and carefully-told film. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray, the disc includes a making-of featurette, an alternate ending, an interview with an elderly woman who was herself a young German girl in the war years, and a panel discussion on the film.