Set in 1945 in a Germany coming to terms with defeat, Cate Shortland’s Lore is an intimate and evocative portrait of lost innocence.
Germany Year Zero by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Based on one part of Rachel Seiffert’s tripartite novel The Dark Room, Lore is the story of Hannelore, a girly adolescent who must quickly come of age when her Nazi parents are taken prisoner following the end of the Second World War. Leading her four siblings from the Black Forest through a sectored Germany to the mud flats around Hamburg, it’s a road movie which recalls André Téchiné’s Strayed or Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, only this time it’s Germans scrabbling through fields and fighting for their lives on the lawless country roads. But Lore is an unusually intimate kind of war film, and just as in her previous film Somersault, Cate Shortland focuses just as much on budding female sexuality and flight.
Lore begins with Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl) in the bath, listening to her sister Liesel playing hopscotch. It’s a curious opening, suggesting a strange unspoken telepathy between sisters as well as the rapid journey at the end of war from heaven towards hell. It’s 1945, and while Lore is still naively hoping for a final victory, her high-ranking Nazi parents are getting ready for an altogether different end. Swastikas are put away and bags hastily packed for a dacha in the forest, while Lore’s father burns the records that would incriminate him. But while her long-absent officer father coddles her, Mother is cold and distant – in the mould of Goebbels’ wife, just as likely to murder her children in the name of the Führer.
It’s almost inconceivable how inconsolable the mother is upon learning of the death of Hitler. But Shortland and Mukherjee’s script is powerful and punchy, punctuated throughout with shocking and confrontational hate-filled one-liners. When her mother leaves, it’s up to Lore to take care of the family and come to terms with a new Germany beyond the Third Reich. Gone are the winsome walks through the forest. Ahead lies a bitter path of lies, mistrust and death as they journey through their now occupied land to Omi’s house in the north. Taking responsibility for her younger siblings, it’s a gradual awakening for Lore, as she lies (telling them their mother and father are already at their grandmother’s), steals (a watch from a dead man) and entraps (seducing a fisherman with a boat in order to get across the river).
Crossing Germany selling her mother’s jewellery for food, breast milk and paraffin, Lore meets Thomas – a suspicious traveller with Jewish papers. For Lore is also the story of a girl’s sexual awakening, overcoming the anti-Semitic horror of his Jewishness to seek intimacy with him, putting Thomas’s hand on her leg. Her desire for him appears to be neither love nor lust, but rather a need for protection, willing a return to unquestioning innocence. And Thomas provides food and safe passage, offering alibis to the Americans that they are paperless Jews escaped from Buchenwald, Lore even offering to give him Peter if Thomas agrees to stay with them. But in the end he leaves them, deprived of his stolen back story, and Lore must face Germany’s new reality head on.
Like the rest of the country, Lore is dealing with the possibility they may, as a nation, have murdered millions of Jews. Pictures from the concentration camps are coming to light, and Germans are wrapping themselves in comforting webs of American conspiracies and lingering anti-Semitism; “I had to stare at dead Jews for hours just to get two loaves. If the Führer knew that!” Like the bloody, raped and ant-infested corpse of a farmer’s wife Lore stumbles upon, Germany is ravaged by violence, numb and complicit. Lore all the more so, with photographic evidence of her father at an extermination camp. Unlike her grandmother who tells them proudly not to be ashamed and tries to protect the children’s image of their parents, Lore buries the incriminating photos, an act which simultaneously accepts and denies her guilt.
With a new dress covering her bruised body, Lore is a symbol of lost innocence in a time of lost innocence. She can no longer dance, no longer enjoy life’s simple pleasures. And stuffing food into her mouth and drinking milk from her hand, German rectitude as much as innocence is lost. The scales have fallen from her eyes. And like her mother, unable to look at herself in the mirror, Germans are coming to terms with their country’s new reality, no longer able to look at themselves. But through the china deer – a symbol of home and belonging, reunited with its porcelain brethren, Lore suggests a new future, breaking the figurine and simultaneously rupturing with the past, family and home.
Lore is a film of unspoken meaning, a riot of metaphor conjuring the spirit of a country blindly groping its way forward. With bright, saturated colours and domestic, intimate close-ups, Shortland’s film is almost too pretty at times to be a war film. But with its medium shots of chickens and washboards, Lore convincingly evokes the texture and atmosphere of a defeated Germany. It’s shocking in its hero’s (albeit waning) anti-Semitism and subtle – suggesting through falling ash the victims of the extermination camps and cleverly undermining Nazi attitudes with Lore’s mother’s “It’s a camp, not a prison. It’s not for criminals.” Woven together out of snippets and glimpses, Lore, like its heroine, is quiet and determined, possessing a delicate complexity with an indefinable power.
Lore is released on 22nd February 2013 in the UK