★★★ / ★★★★
Following the Allied forces’ arrival in Germany, a Nazi officer (Hans-Jochen Wagner) goes home to his family and takes them to a house in the forest for safety. He leaves almost immediately which means his wife, Mutti (Ursina Lardi) is in charge to take care of her five children, the eldest of which is Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) who, despite the look of desperation on her parents’ faces, remains to believe that Hitler and the Nazis are winning the war.
Days pass and their hideaway is compromised. Mutti chooses to surrender to the Americans but before doing so she instructs Lore to take her sister (Nele Trebs), twin brothers (André Frid, Mika Seidel), and baby brother (Nick Holaschke) to their grandmother’s house. Mutti gives her daughter jewelry and other valuables that they can use to barter during their journey.
Based on a novel by Rachel Seiffert, “Lore” is able to capture fear in a bottle and rapidly shake the contents inside. While there is plenty of ambiguity in terms of human relationships and intentions, what is clear is the need to survive against a nation that is newly divided into zones by foreign powers and fellow Germans looking out for their own self-interests. Though Lore and her siblings are children of Hitler’s followers, we are asked to sympathize with them as young people who have been so brainwashed by hatred, when those in control of them leave or are taken away, they are left with no moral compass.
The film takes a while to get started. There is much attention on establishing a precise mood through haunting images, slow motion, and melancholy score. The first act is designed for us to note that the children are used to living a life sheltered from the harsh realities of the war. Rules are respected and punishment is feared. Some of the details are necessary to get us into the mindset of the children. There are times, however, when the techniques become repetitive. The engine is revved up but the vehicle does not move.
As it moves forward, we see plenty of situations worth pondering about. One that will stick with me is when Lore and her siblings enter the home of an old woman who has dyed all of her clothes black because she is mourning for her Führer’s death. The way she looks at them communicates a certain air of loneliness but at the same time there is a madness brewing inside her. It made me uncomfortable and wonder why she has asked the twins to take off their clothes while they sing a song of patriotism for her.
The centerpiece is Lore’s meeting of Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina). She learns that he is Jewish as he pretends to be their brother in front of American soldiers asking for papers. Despite his benevolence, disgust and anger are written all over her face. For the most part, we are left to imagine what might be going on in her head. There are also moments when she gives into her desire to express how he is beneath her, that, by comparison, he is an animal. I did not like Lore all that much but I did care about her and her siblings. The writers, Cate Shortland and Robin Mukherjee, do a good job in allowing us to understand that Lore, the eldest and most ardent to keep following the Nazi’s beliefs despite the things she has seen, is not to blame for her ways.
It is to Shortland’s credit, the director, that “Lore” is not reduced into romance. There is a physical attraction between Thomas and Lore but it is minimized for the most part because the bigger picture takes precedence. What the material needs is a more detailed third act. The repercussions of the trek is somewhat reduced to a symbolism. I wanted to know more about how, in concrete ways, Lore and her siblings’ hardships changed them. Another fifteen to twenty minutes might have given it a stronger statement.