Despite a few moments of visual beauty, Cate Shortland’s Lore is not a beautiful film. Instead, it’s often ugly and uncomfortable in its portrayal of humanity’s less admirable traits. Taking place in occupied Germany as the Nazi regime has finally crumbled, this point-of-view is to be expected. Lore isn’t so much a film about the horrors of war as it is about how the horrors of war — and our reactions to them — affect everyone. This is war on a personal level, which likely is what makes the film so disturbing. While this is a noble subject to undertake, it makes for a tough one to watch. Shortland’s refusal to back down from the nastier aspects of human nature is commendable and occasionally powerful — and it’s also, ultimately, discomforting.
Lore draws much of its disquieting quality from its subjects: teenagers and children. Here, we see firsthand the effect World War II had on these children (granted they’re of an affluent class and not the ones fighting the war to begin with), as we follow our titular teenage heroine Lore (newcomer Saskia Rosendahl) and her four siblings traveling through Germany just after the death of Hitler and the beginning of the Allied occupation. Their father (Hans-Jochen Wagner), a Nazi officer tied closely to acts of mass-murder during the Holocaust, and their hard-nosed mother (Ursina Lardi, The White Ribbon) have both been captured. With the trains shut down by the Allies, and having little money and fewer valuables, the children must travel to Hamburg to find their grandmother any way they can. In many ways, Lore is a coming-of-age tale — but one handled in much more desperate terms, with these children witnessing firsthand the toll their parents’ ideas have brought the people — with death, hunger and sexual violence hovering all around.
Lore’s awakening is seen through a number of moments — suddenly being thrust into the role of head of the family, learning about the Holocaust and her father’s role in it, the abrupt death of a family member. But most important is her standoffish relationship with Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina, The White Ribbon), a fellow traveler, violent thief and apparent Jew who decides to help Lore and her family. Thomas’ intentions are murky, as he looks to protect Lore and her siblings, but isn’t opposed to theft, murder or possibly worse, if it allows him to survive — while seeing Lore in little more than an unsettlingly sexual manner. In his eyes, no one is innocent in war, which is one of the lessons Lore must learn. The twist to Thomas’ character (which I won’t reveal here) muddies the waters, complicating Lore’s feelings toward him even more. Thankfully, Shortland rarely takes obvious routes in the film’s plot. The majority of the film is handled in the same subtle, opaque way, thereby heightening the moral questions at the heart of it. But there’s a consequence to this approach in that it creates distance between the viewer and the characters — something that makes it difficult to get a grasp on their feelings — and makes it hard to create a meaningful emotional understanding, an important factor in a film so built upon feeling. Some may have an easier time developing the connection needed to get the most out of the film, but for me, Lore is more a film to be admired than liked — one in which moments of brilliance unfortunately work better in principle than in practice. Not Rated.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas