PAINFUL AWAK­EN­ING

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

LORE (pro­nounced Laura) is short for Han­nalore, the name of the teenage hero­ine of Cate Short­land’s mar­vel­lous new film, set in Ger­many at the end of World War II. Lore has led a priv­i­leged life. Her fa­ther is a se­nior SS of­fi­cer who has spent much of the war round­ing up Jews or slaugh­ter­ing in­no­cent civil­ians in Be­larus. Her mother has had some­thing to do with Hitler’s race laws, though ex­actly what we can’t be sure. Lore and her sib­lings have been kept in ig­no­rance of these hor­rors, though Lore her­self, a proud mem­ber of Hitler Youth, has been thor­oughly in­doc­tri­nated in Nazi ide­ol­ogy. Now, with her beloved Fuhrer dead and Ger­many in ruins, she is about to be­gin a painful and deeply mov­ing process of en­light­en­ment.

Lore is a Ger­man-Aus­tralian co-pro­duc­tion, shot in Ger­many and based on a book, The Dark Room, by Rachel Seif­fert. Es­sen­tially it’s the story of Lore’s flight from her fam­ily home, in the com­pany of her sib­lings, to the safety of their grand­mother’s home in north­ern Ger­many. And what feels at times like a dis­jointed story is an­chored by a per­for­mance of com­pelling as­sur­ance and ma­tu­rity by Saskia Rosendahl in the ti­tle role. I thought at once of Heidi, the hero­ine of Som­er­sault, Short­land’s first film, about an­other emo­tion­ally dis­turbed teenager, played by Ab­bie Cor­nish. Like Heidi, Lore longs for love and se­cu­rity, though her ideas of se­cu­rity and her ca­pac­ity for love may have been dam­aged be­yond re­pair.

Re­view­ing Som­er­sault in 2004, I wrote that if Heidi was not des­tined for hap­pi­ness, she was prob­a­bly des­tined for greater wis­dom. Per­haps the same can be said of Lore; at least we must hope so.

The film be­gins with Lore’s par­ents aban­don­ing the chil­dren to their fate. No ex­pla­na­tions are of­fered. The fa­ther (Hans-Jochen Wag­ner) kills the fam­ily dog; the mother (Ursina Lardi) walks away with­out so much as a farewell kiss. We as­sume they are to be tried as war crim­i­nals, but Lore knows noth­ing of this, and the lit­tle ones — Liesel (Nele Trebs), Gun­ther (An­dre Frid), Jur­gen (Mika Sei­del) and baby Peter (Nick Le­an­der Ho­laschke) — are too young to un­der­stand. In a telling scene be­fore their de­par­ture, the par­ents burn in­crim­i­nat­ing books and pa­pers, among which we glimpse a chill­ing ti­tle — Law for the Preven­tion of Hered­i­tary Dis­eased Off­spring.

(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Na­tional re­lease There is fa­mous news­reel footage of Nazi book­burn­ings in Nurem­berg and else­where be­fore the war, and all who have seen it will savour this bit­ter touch of irony — though more ex­plicit re­minders of the hor­rors of the Holo­caust are in store for us.

Dur­ing their jour­ney Lore and the chil­dren take refuge in bombed-out houses and scrounge food from farm­ers’ wives or any­one with a mouth­ful to spare. Lore trades her mother’s wed­ding ring for food. Now and again she stum­bles on ev­i­dence of an atroc­ity — a raped or mu­ti­lated corpse — with­out quite know­ing who was the vic­tim or who the likely of­fender. A Rus­sian? An Amer­i­can? She is more puz­zled than shocked to find pho­to­graphs of the Nazi death camps, posted in pub­lic places by lib­er­at­ing US forces. But some­thing of the truth is be­gin­ning to dawn on her and break through her Nazi loy­al­ties.

Her deep­est emo­tional con­flicts are stirred by the ar­rival of Thomas (Kai Malina), a Jewish boy, gaunt, furtive and much her own age, who at­taches him­self to her lit­tle party. Thomas is gen­tle, kindly and at­ten­tive. He wants to help. At one stage he res­cues Lore from the at­ten­tions of a brutish se­ducer; later, at an army check­point, he saves her from ar­rest by pre­tend­ing to be her brother. Torn be­tween her in­cul­cated ha­tred and her bur­geon­ing at­trac­tion, Lore en­dures ag­o­nies of emo­tional dis­tress. Short­land han­dles her scenes with Thomas with tact and del­i­cacy. In­deed the whole film, beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by Adam Arka­paw (who worked on Snow­town and An­i­mal King­dom), is a model of re­straint. Thomas is the cat­a­lyst of Lore’s awak­en­ing, and Malina’s deeply guarded per­for­mance gives the story added depth and poignancy. Can Lore trust some­one she has been taught to hate? Can Thomas learn to for­give?

In a bi­o­graph­i­cal note, Short­land tells us that she speaks lit­tle Ger­man but was de­ter­mined that the film be made in the Ger­man

(M) ★★★✩✩ Se­lected cine­mas in Sydney and Canberra, other cities later lan­guage. And this surely makes her achieve­ment all the more re­mark­able (though it’s fair to say that the screen­play, writ­ten by Short­land with Robin Mukher­jee, has a min­i­mum of spo­ken di­a­logue). It will spoil no one’s plea­sure if I say that Lore and her sib­lings even­tu­ally reach the home of their grand­mother. But what will be­come of them? This is the mys­tery we are left to pon­der. And how many thou­sands of other chil­dren were sim­i­larly scarred and trau­ma­tised? How many, I won­der, still live with their mem­o­ries? In a painful fi­nal scene, the maid at the grand­mother’s house tries to or­gan­ise a happy sing-song and get Lore to join in. If only she would do so. If only she could. LAST Will is a smart lit­tle thriller from Swe­den, di­rected by Peter Flinth. The plot has to do with cor­rupt prac­tices in the award of the No­bel Prize. And since the No­bel Prize is one of Swe­den’s most ven­er­ated in­sti­tu­tions, I’m sur­prised that the Swedes al­lowed its good name to be com­pro­mised (even if only for fic­tional pur­poses). At the No­bel pre­sen­ta­tion banquet in Stockholm, an as­sas­sin in­fil­trates the build­ing and kills the woman who chairs the No­bel com­mit­tee re­spon­si­ble for award­ing the prizes. What pos­si­ble mo­tive can there be? Per­haps the real tar­get was the win­ner of the prize for physics (or was it the prize for medicine?) for his work on stem-cell cloning. Per­haps the real vil­lains are from a Ger­man ter­ror­ist group, Neue Ji­had.

In­trepid blonde re­porter Annika Bengt­zon (Malin Cre­pin) is quickly on the case, de­fy­ing the best ef­forts of lawyers and higher-ups at her pa­per to get her to drop it. The story is in­trigu­ing and, for the most part, so un­be­liev­able that we need have no fears for the rep­u­ta­tion of the No­bel Prize.

I was happy to over­look the cliches — the scur­ry­ing fig­ure on a spi­ral stair­case, the per­ils of an empty carpark at night, a night­mare se­quence. The source is one of six books by Liza Mark­lund op­tioned by the pro­duc­ers of the Mil­len­nium tril­ogy, those slick and rather nasty films about a tat­tooed girl with a dragon who kicks a hor­net’s nest. This could be an­other Swedish plot to cor­ner the mar­ket in grim de­tec­tive fic­tion — ex­cept that in this case, I’m pleased to say, there are no mu­ti­lated corpses or sadis­tic rape scenes. Last Will is a pleas­ant sur­prise.

Lore

Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina are mem­o­rable as Lore and Thomas in

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