1-7 March; DCA
Contemporary Germany is rightly celebrated for the healthy way that it continues to deal with its dark past of tyranny and genocide under the Nazis. Conspicuous public memorials and museums throughout Germany demonstrate the nation’s commitment to ensuring that the history of The Holocaust is not glossed over or forgotten. While the Third Reich and the Second World War have provided the subject for countless historical studies and fictional treatments, the immediate aftermath of the conflict is a period that is less widely understood. Indeed, Keith Lowe’s impressive study Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II(2012) is the first major history of the period in any language. In a strange and coincidental synchronicity of historiography and cinema, Australian director Cate Shortland’s latest film Lore, also released last year, offers a lyrical, subjective treatment of exactly the same historical circumstances as Lowe’s study.
Set amid the chaos and lawlessness that characterised defeated Germany in the wake of the Second World War, Lore directly engages with the difficult transition following the days of the Third Reich. Based on the second of the three thematically linked stories that form Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room (2001), Shortland’s film is about the children of Nazis and how they come to terms with the dark legacy of their parents. It follows the story of teenage girl Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl), referred to throughout as Lore. She is forced to look after her four young siblings, including a baby, after their Nazi parents abandon them in the final days of the War. In the course of the film, the children make their way over five hundred miles through Allied territory, from the Black Forest to their grandmother’s home in Hamburg. During their journey, most of which they make on foot, they witness seemingly relentless scenes of disorder and brutality, reminiscent of John Hillcoat’s post-apocalyptic film The Road (2006), including graphically-depicted corpses, sexual violence, and frantic scavenging. Of course, the siblings are not exempt from the starvation and desperation, and they too are eventually forced to lose their innocence and take part in the brutality.
The disorientating opening shots of Lore are all extreme close-ups filmed with a constantly shaking camera: an irritating combination of stylistic techniques that is currently very much in vogue in self-consciously worthy art-house cinema. Thankfully, these techniques are only used in the first few minutes to establish the tone and create the sense that the world of the film is one which is filtered through the experiences of a child. When the camerawork settles down, Lore becomes a substantial film which offers a very specific perspective on a confused nation at a confused time, and does so in a confident but moving manner.
In one particularly well-executed scene, Lore trades her mother’s wedding ring for food with an elderly German lady who talks of the late Führer with fondness and claims that the photographed corpses being circulated to the German people depicting the Holocaust are fakes. This scene showcases Saskia Rosendahl’s outstanding performance as a deeply anxious, divided young woman who realises the dark side of her Nazi upbringing. In an earlier scene, when fending off the sexual advances of a Jewish teenager, Lore had angrily replicated the anti-Semitic rhetoric of her parents, but in this later scene, Rosendahl’s tortured facial expression conveys an emerging awareness of the Nazi atrocities. This awareness comes to a head in the film’s movingly ambivalent “happy ending” in which the values of civilisation now seem irrevocably tainted.