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