Innocence shattered by the reality of war is nothing new to cinema. ThinkEmpire Of The Sun, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas and Winter In Wartime. These films often avoid the more obvious war staples in favour of a traditional coming of age story. This is certainly the case with Lore.
With Hitler having just killed himself, the German forces are in disarray. Lore(Saskia Rosendahl) is the eldest of five siblings whose father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is a high-ranking Nazis officer. When the allied forces arrive they take him away for prosecution and their mother (Ursina Lardi) insists on following him to plead for his life. Before she goes, she gives Lore anything of value thechildren can carry and tells Lore to lead them to Hamburg where their grandmother lives. But Lore, tasked with guiding her sister, twin brothers and infant brother, soon realises she is not ready for the responsibly of keeping her siblings alive. Along the road they encounter a young Jew, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who at first Lore sees as filth due to her upbringing but could be their only hope of crossing a country that has been divided by the Allies and has little to no time for young German children.
When in the company of her parents, Lore is your normal teenage girl, scowling and silently judging her mother while desperate for her father’s attention. On the road she must mature, persevere, in order to help her siblings survive. The chance meeting with Thomas begins to show Lore in her true colours; polluted by her parents and the Hitler Youth’s ideologies she is repulsed by him. But this doesn’t seem to deter his infatuation with her. He’s protective; refusing to break his lustful gaze from her Aryan looks. There is an unspoken bondbetween the pair, yet Lore refuses to see beyond her prejudices.
Forced to put her childish ways behind her, Lore carries one piece of her youth with her. A porcelain deer, bearing a resemblance to Bambi, seems to hold some kind of significance in her life. Only when she is allowed to be a child again do the strains on this young girl begin to show.
Australian director Cate Shortland, who is no stranger to teen awakenings having previously directed Somersault, shoots Lore with an almost Malick-esque sensibility; prolonged shots of the surrounding countryside, lingering takes on Lore’s delicate face while the sun gently caresses her. There is an element of sexuality in the direction and yet by keeping Lore firmly in the wilderness there is an unkempt innocence at play. Where the film begins to struggle is in telling a gripping narrative. At times, it feels like nothing more than a series of encounters as Lore and her siblings overcome obstacles in their way while the country shifts around them. But we don’t fully comprehend, or at least are rarely shown, the effect this has on others. Due to their age the children are never seen as a threat but more a nuisance while the suffering around them is only ever really hinted at.
Lore does mark the emergence of a genuine talent in the shape of young Saskia Rosendahl. In the title role she glows, igniting the screen with a forced maturity while refusing to compromise the beliefs instilled in her by the Nazis. Often belligerent there are moments of stunning intimacy shared between her and Kai-Peter Malina’s Thomas. Their scenes together sizzle with chemistry, their unspoken love-hate relationship sketched with little more than a prolonged silence, a longing look.
Lacking in story but strong on emotional pull, Lore looks beautiful and, as she did with Abbie Cornish in Somersault, Shortland may have discovered another future star in Saskia Rosendahl. With its lingering, often existential execution,Lore will inspire and alienate in equal measure but its worth the journey.