Australia’s candidate for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is a dark WWII tale about a teenager (Saskia Rosendahl) who must get her younger sibs to safety after their parents are arrested. Lore starts strong with a terrific performance by Ursina Lardi as a mother more devote to Hitler than her own family, but intensity dissipates as the 5 kids wander alone thru Germany’s barren post-WWII landscape. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.
A German girl has reached her teenage years as the eldest daughter of fervent Nazis. “Vati” (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is a high-ranking, decorated SS officer. “Mutti” (Ursina Lardi), his brittle wife, is the mother of five perfect Aryan children. They are wealthy and well-connected, but they have been playing for the wrong team and the time has come to pay the piper. Vati (the German diminutive for Father) and Mutti (the German diminutive for Mother) don’t have actual names or back stories, so we know very little about them. As the Allies advance, it makes sense for Vati to assume that he will be arrested, but why is Mutti arrested too? We never know, and they both disappear very early in Act One.
It is left to Lore to get her four siblings (one of whom is just an infant) across war-ravaged Germany to the relative safety of their grandmother in Hamburg. And so the bulk of the film follows them as they proceed, primarily on foot, across wide barren fields and through bombed-out villages.
Lore has a stash of Mutti’s jewelry, but no one has much to sell them, so they have almost nothing to eat. And the fastidious girl has no way to keep herself and her siblings clean, which, given her background, is also a source of great distress. Lore’s self-concept is further eroded by newspaper stories with pictures that imply that her father was someone directly responsible for unnamed atrocities.
Along the way, they acquire a protector named “Thomas” (Kai-Peter Malina). Harrassed by skeptical American soldiers, Thomas flashes identity papers and suddenly they’re all riding in a jeep. Is Thomas Jewish? If yes, then Lore wants nothing to do with this sub-human. She relents only because her siblings are desperate for someone to lean on, and they travel on together under the pretext that they are all one family.
Unfortunately, although Lore is a film that sounds fascinating and provocative on paper, on screen it turns into a long, slow slog. Everything director Cate Shortland tells us about post-War Germany has been told before. The screenplay by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee is based on a novella by Rachel Seiffert which can be found in a collection called The Dark Room. Perhaps Seiffert provides more background information, or each story in her collection gains resonance when juxtaposed with the others. Since I have not read The Dark Room, I can’t say. But I can say that Lore’s push/pull relationship with Thomas is especially heavy-handed, and the final reveal about who Thomas is and where he has come annoyed me. He’s more of a narrative device than a fully realized character, and once he’s gone, he leaves no emotional trace. Ursina Lardi gives a ferociously intense performance as Mutti, but Saskia Rosendahl is merely a pale shadow as her beleagured daughter.
What is all of this in service of anyway? Does anyone still believe that individual Germans didn’t suffer just because the suffering they endured as a people was less than the suffering they inflicted on the Jews? As a Jew, I reject this. Starvation is starvation. Filth is filth. Fear is fear. The details of survival in desperate circumstances are always abhorrent. What makes the Holocaust unique is not the horrific conditions inside the ghettos and camps, but the industrialization of death (the gas chambers and ovens) in which millions were destroyed not as individuals but as entire towns and villages. I feel sorry for Lore and her siblings and for all the individual survivors of World War II (European and Asian alike), but as a Jew I believe that, in the end, survival is its own reward.
Photo Credits: Grace Cramer/Music Box Films