26 February 2013

The End of Innocence

Germany, spring 1945. As the German resistance begins to crumble against Allied forces, 14-year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is forced to lead her younger siblings on a 900-km journey from Bavaria to their grandmother's house in the north. Her Nazi father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and mother (Ursina Lardi) have been imprisoned and the children are on their own, leaving Lore as the unwilling matriarch.  She is, by turns, courageous and childish. She puts on a good front for her younger siblings, but she gets into petty fights with them.

Nele Trebs, Saskia Rosendahl, Mika Seidel and André Frid in Lore. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

After years of Hitler Youth, Lore is also a firm believer in Hitler's policies and she talks about him reverentially, almost as though he was her own father. She is taught not to question (Hier ist kein Warum, perhaps). It is for this reason that she makes an uncomfortable protagonist in Cate Shortland's new movie of the same name. We want to be sympathetic for the difficult task with which she has been charged, but when we are confronted with her uncompromisingly fascist beliefs, we hesitate. How much of what she believes and the way she acts her own fault, and how much of it is due to her upbringing? At what age are we old enough to take responsibility for the things we have always been taught are correct?

Keeping herself and a family alive on their epic journey is a struggle. They see sights they never thought they would have to face (the BBFC were right about the gory images), and have to do things they never thought they would have to do. Along the way, they meet a mysterious young man called Thomas (Kai Malina). Initially, he seems threatening, but after helping the family evade capture by some US soldiers, he travels with them, helping to feed them and protect them. Lore, who is having to face her budding sexuality as well as everything else that summer, is attracted to him, but she has also seen the Star of David on his papers and the thought of him touching her or even eating from the same rag goes against all she has ever been taught. Her younger siblings, meanwhile, are much more accepting of the enigmatic stranger.

Can Lore trust Thomas? Will the family make it to safety? There are deeper questions too, some of which remain partly unanswered—as her understanding of the world works collapses beneath her, will Lore forgive her parents for raising her as they did? Lore is a tricky film in many ways. I was utterly gripped throughout its 1h50 length and Rosendahl's début performance as a confused, conflicted teenager was impressive. Despite the very different settings, a number of the themes in Lore—love, betrayal, burgeoning sexuality—are similar to Shortland's previous film, Somersault. It also struck me as being an interesting counterpoint to Peter Weir's The Way Back. Lore doesn't always hang together perfectly, but it's an intriguing, thoughtful and ambitious work and one worth watching.

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