on 25 November 2013
This film does exactly what a film should do: it tells a story worth telling, in images and episodes. The horrors of Germany 1945 are made plastic not by showing them all by giving us a few harrowing examples. This is a coming-of-age film, in spite of the unusual context: Lore loves her father above all but in the course of their long journey is gradually forced to come to terms with his evil past (which is not disclosed in detail). And when she finally reaches journey's end, the confrontation with her grandmother illustrates the kind of family background which facilitated the descent in to the evils of the Third Reich. There is unlikely to be a good outcome for Lore herself but through her courage and persistence, she has probably succeeded in 'rescuing' those of the children who survive the trip. Her parents are off-stage but they are not dead, so sooner or later she is going to have to confront them personally.
Cate Shortland makes her points considerably better than the book, Rachael Seiffert's 'The Dark Room'. See my book review. And I cannot at all agree that the film is over-long, or that it has all been done before, except in the trivial sense that everything has always been done before. One needs a certain length to convey a sense of the difficulties of the children's journey, and the developmental processes they are going through in the course of that journey.
Well worth watching, even if it is hardly an evening of easy-going entertainment.
Some plot detail in paras 1 & 2!
'Lore' tells the story of 15 year old Hannelore and her younger siblings, Liesel, Jurgen, Gunter and a baby-in-arms as they cross Germany from Bavaria to Hamburg in the immediate aftershocks of their country's defeat, searching for the home of their grandmother. Their father, clearly involved in the work of the einsatzgrupen, extermination squads or camps, has disappeared, fleeing, one imagines, capture and retribution for the crimes he has committed: just before leaving he burns official Nazi documents which also suggest some involvement in the 'disposal' of 'mental defectives'. The mother, we gather, is complicit in some of these monstrosities as she leaves home to give herself up to the Americans: she leaves Lore with the children and the instruction to reach Hamburg, which is hundreds of miles away. During the journey they become reluctant companions of Thomas who bears a camp number on his wrist and ID cards: without their own, his documents and the story that they are one family represents a kind of lifeline to ease their passage through the chaos of their partitioned homeland. As a Nazi child, her acceptance of such a lie is traumatic.
The journey is a baptism of fire for Lore: she despises Jews and clearly wants nothing to do with any form of 'tainted' humanity. However, the journey imposes a slow, new and increasingly horrified awareness of the reality of Hitler's Germany. She meets no spontaneous kindness or generosity and is forced to adopt increasingly feral tactics to enable her own and her family's survival. She almost breaks completely in the face of some of her actions. Her desire for warmth, developing sexual awareness and simple dependence draw her into a connection with Thomas which is highly conflicted. She struggles to find the resources both to survive and come to terms with a world and perceptions which have been turned upside down. Nor is she alone in this: the adults with whom she comes into contact generally cling to the view that the war has been lost through betrayal of the Fuhrer; the revelations from the camps are a mere propaganda device!
There isn't a weak link in the cast, but the central performance of Saskia Rosendahl, only 17 herself, has to be highlighted: she is utterly convincing as she struggles more and more to make sense of the world in which she finds herself. This is also reflected in the way the narrative is managed in the film: exposition is sketchy throughout and we share her uncertainty about what is going on. We have to infer a great deal, and at times we simply do not know why something has happened, most crucially regarding Thomas's fate: this places us close to Lore's fraught and bewildered perceptions and her sense of loss.
The (largely) hand-held camera work also encourages the viewer's sense of seeing through the eyes of the characters. And the camera provides one of the great triumphs of the piece: this is generally not a trek through a scorched and bloodied earth. The wasteland the characters traverse is in many ways largely psychological, perhaps all the more ironically potent in the context of the often stunning scenery through which the characters move.
This is such a cinematically unrepresented area, at least in my experience, that this film makes a particular impact. The film offers no easy answers for the future of the characters: in an emblematic mealtime scene at the end it is plainly clear that Lore cannot tolerate the fiction that life as it was before can be seemlessly restored. Whether Lore can emerge from the trauma she has experienced is not made clear, a decision which further contributes to this being really assured and grown up film-making which eschews easy answers because in the real world, consolation is not always so easily accessible! A terrible journey of reappraisal is clearly imminent. A great movie.
on 10 March 2014
A tale of the end of innocence, at the time when innocence itself was shattered - the collapse of the Nazi regime, and a time when much of Europe was on the move. I suppose it's a metaphor as old as storytelling itself - the outer journey influencing the inner - but this is done very well, with very good performances from the children, and especially Rosendahl. The decision to make the film in German was spot-on ("The Reader" was spoiled for me by not doing that), and very little about this intense and well-conceived film rings false.
on 2 March 2015
This is, by any standards, one of the best films made about the Third Reich and its collapse, perhaps better than either 'Germany:Year Zero' or 'Germany Pale Mother'. Unlike other recent films about this period, it was refreshingly free of the usual tiresome cliches, simplifications and the contemptuous apologia of such films as 'Stalingrad', 'Downfall' or the morally excreble 'The Reader'. What impressed me, over and above the superb direction, dialogue, cinematography and bravura performances of a very young cast, was the sheer subtlety of the script and the respect the director had for the audience's intelligence and their understanding of history. Understated visual references were used to excellent effect, rather than the usual heavy-handed realisations of Nazi power and indoctrination- 'Vati' being a member of the Totenkopfverbande, the glimpses of his eugenicist files, of Lore's HJ uniform, the Allach porcelain figure. More than this, the character of 'Thomas' was impressively ambiguous as both possible victim and/or perpetrator, serving to underscore the chaos of not only the end of the dictatorship and the war, but also the collapse of moral values brought about by Nazism itself and the systematic and inhuman degradation of nearly all of those who came into contact with it, from the children of the Nazis themselves to the victims of their persecutions. The viewer never really knows whether the character is a Jewish man who has survived, a DP ('Displaced Person'), perhaps an escaped slave labourer, a German deserter, a war criminal himself, nor is his nationality revealed- which to me, is an overt statement of simple humanity, regardless of 'race' or any social status.
This is a film that demands respect for dealing with Germany's historical ghosts in a totally human, direct and honest way, as it navigates the complex psychologies and actions of the characters involved and yet still manages to convey an almost mythical allegorisation within it, with Lore herself, and the German countryside both budding with the possibility of future life, yet so tainted by a dark past. Excellent- the cast and crew should be proud for having made such a terrific film.
on 22 September 2015
Really enjoyed this -a very unusual view point not often seen; the germans at the end of WWII or more correctly how one family react to the end of the war. Saskia Rosendahl who plays the lead character Lore short for Hannalore, is great as the young woman who suddenly has to grow up very quickly after having to leave home with her younger siblings. In fact all the cast do well and I agree the film benefits from being in german, although I had to quickly look up what Vati and Mutti meant!
I thought the hand held 'wobblycam' detracted somewhat from the film as it was distracting and went on for too long a periods. A very interesting film though.
on 2 August 2015
Such a subtle, quietly gripping film. It is the spaces between which stay with me - the boys playing in the woods, the powerful lack of forcing background music (or only in exceptional moments), the woman on the cart giving the children an egg ...
The acting, especially by Saskia Rosendahl as the main girl, is stupendous. But it is the concentrated, loving direction and cinematography which dominates.
The fact that the protagonists come from a Fuhrer-worshipping family, but are still treated as human beings, says it all. The girl's awakening to the lies of her upbringing is marvellously muted.
on 24 March 2013
Just a note to add to the two previous reviews, in that this powerful film is based on the middle story within a book by Rachel Seiffert which is called 'The Dark Room.' All the stories in her novel deal with the pressures and complexities of this period of German history and of its affect on her different characters. This series of time-linked stories is well written and perhaps we may get another film from it!
on 13 February 2015
This is a poignant, evocative and beautifully filmed journey through Germany in the aftermath of the Second Word War, as seen through the eyes of a group of lost children. "Lore" is short for Annalore, a traditional country name in Germany pronounced "Laura". When her high-ranking Nazi parents are abruptly removed from the family by the invading Allies, she and her younger siblings are left to fend for themselves, and Lore takes them through the ravaged and occupied German countryside on what seems like a hopeless quest to reach relatives in Hamburg. Her journey is the story of an ironic double awakening. Laura slowly comes to terms with the realisation that their father was in charge of a Nazi programme to exterminate unwanted children, and her idealised vision of good Germans struggling against a degenerate world is gradually reversed: first by the brutality of good Germans who are turning against their former leaders, then through a fiercely eroticised encounter with a young Jewish boy who first stalks her and later tries to protect the family from the dangers that surround them. Her refusal to be cowed, raped, or victimised is a moving and spiritually inspiring story, and her rising anger about the lies she has been brought up to believe coincides with the onset of her own adolescent rebellion against the values of a war-crazy world. Lore's struggle opens your eyes to the social complicity that marks all of our lives, while her her inner strength becomes the kind of purity that her parents could only dream about.
on 26 September 2013
A beautiful film about how nature eventually overturns all our human contrivances.
We meet Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) and her family in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi capitulation in 1945: Mutti und Vati (German for Mummy and Daddy, though curiously not so translated in the subtitles) are SS functionaries based in Munich who have realised that the game - and quite possibly their number - is up. They hastily pack trunks, burn incriminating evidence, shoot the dog and flee in a canvas covered truck to a safe house in the depths of the Bavarian black forest, but even there they cannot escape the American occupiers' tightening net.
Father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is silently apprehended and eventually Mother (Ursina Lardi), an archetypal stiff, glacial Aryan, walks out of the woods to hand herself in. She coldly leaves Lore, a strikingly handsome girl of 15, to fend for the family, comprising; sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), twin 7 year-olds Günther (André Frid) and Jürgen (Mika Seidel) and baby Peter (Nick Holaschke). Mutti's parting instructions: head to your grandmother's house in Hamburg: we'll meet you there.
Hamburg is a long way from the Schwartzwald. In her face you can read that Mother doesn't believe they'll make it that far, and doesn't believe she will either. In her face you can read the end of days.
As the children of the deposed murderous elite the children find themselves unwelcome in their rural retreat. Lore packs some things and the children set out: at a basic level, the film becomes a post-apocalyptic road movie, as harrowing as Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The environment they traverse, in human terms, is blasted to hell, but nature is having her traditional ball: the countryside is in beautiful late summer bloom: Adam Arkapaw's luscious cinematography often pauses to observe the moss, mould spores, pollen, flies and ants, which settle, feast and propagate as happily on human remains and the detritus of conflict as readily as on any other flora or fauna.
The children are confronted with the residue, all around, of unspeakable and desperate acts; though, by and large, the survivors are now civil, but they are as untrusting of each other as they are of their American occupiers. The locals still harbour resentment for the Jews, as if they somehow asked for this to be brought on the German people. They are obliged to view photographs of Belsen and Auschwitz as they cue for food, but there is open disbelief at their legitimacy.
Lore is well-raised (in her Nazi household), is disgusted by the squalor and insists at first on cleanliness and orderliness. She is poised precisely on the brink of sexual maturity and is aware that this would have currency in the squalor, where her trinkets and keepsakes have little value. She is also aware in particular of a fellow traveller, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who seems to be tracking the children, and Lore in particular, with nefarious intent. Circumstances throw them together: Thomas reveals himself to be of good intentions, but to Lore's initial horror, bears the tattoos and papers of an Auschwitz survivor.
Over this dilemma the film proceeds: this is Lore's coming of age, it is her revaluation of all values and a study in the triumph of nature - our nature, and nature red in tooth and claw - over the feeble contrivances of frail humans. It is starkly captured, often in extreme close-up and low light: there is a graininess to the film stock which supplements the gritty life of the characters. Saskia Rosendahl's debut performance is quite magnificent: magnetic and enigmatic, and a solid centre to this highly recommended film.
Especially recommended because, for all its apparent Europeanness, it is scripted and directed by Cate Shortland, an Australian. I sat through most of this film thinking, "why can't Anglo-Saxon directors make films like this?", so Shortland deserves special recognition for the authenticity of her vision. Clearly, they can.
on 15 July 2014
Great film about an aspect of World War 2 which is generally forgotten. Excellent direction. The fact that there is very little dialogue is spot on and what there is, is just right. Though the subject is difficult, the scenes sometimes harrowing, it nevertheless leaves one somehow still and reflective at the end - there is hope, always.