Adapted from a self-contained story in Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 book Dark Room, this ‘black fairy-tale’ views the impact of post-World War II Germany through the eyes of 14 year old Lore (newcomer, Saskia Rosendahl) who, with her four younger siblings, is left to make a treacherous and eye-opening journey after their Nazi parents are arrested by allied forces. It is a refreshing take on the arguably homogeneous ‘front-line’ and ‘love story’ WWII films that have been surfacing ever since the horrific events of that period. The stunning cinematography of Adam Arkapaw (Snowtown), whose images of nature and decay are so haunting, infuses this unconventional take on the Holocaust legacy with unforgettable impact.
From its haunting opening to its somewhat bleak conclusion we are taken on a literal and metaphorical journey with the five children, who are attempting to make it to the safety of their unsuspecting grandmother in Hamburg. There are no obvious signs that Lore has learnt any moral lessons from the journey, and no redemption is offered by the film, but Shortland maintains the piece of cinema in a contemporary setting through its ‘coming-of-age’ aspect; through Lore’s reluctant sexual awakening juxtaposed with the sudden brutal awareness of the harsh reality she is living in.
Encompassed in this beautiful piece of cinematic innovation is Lore’s internal conflict to dispel the beliefs she has been brought up with, particularly when Thomas, an enigmatic Jewish refugee of little words, appears on the scene and Lore has to learn to trust the one person she has always been taught to hate in order to survive. This intensely artistic portrait lays out the merits and flaws of how post-war Germany was dealt with by the allies; should the children be made to pay for the crimes of their parents through the suffering they endured travelling across war-torn Germany?
The Sound of Music-esque scenes of them walking through the hills with all their belongings scream of irony – they are not escaping the Nazis, but struggling to come to terms with the impact that Nazism has had on their homeland and the part they played in this destruction. Side by side with this are eerie scenes such as when an old German matron stares at a portrait of the late Führer and says, “We broke his heart… he loved us so much,” epitomising a nation in denial of its crimes.
Lore is an intense, artistic portrayal of the aftermath of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity. An interesting premise, a stunningly executed performance from Saskia Rosendahl, and the bleak picture of humanity it paints is beautifully illustrated by its haunting imagery.