In the final days of the second World War a 14-year-old girl named Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is abandoned by her Nazi parents in the Black Forest of Bavaria. Left to fend for herself and her 4 siblings she must take them on foot to Hamburg, 500 miles through the remnants and memories of the greatest atrocity in modern times. A dark fairy tale feeling runs through Lore like a great dark vein, growing more prominent as they are pursued by many big bad wolves on their way to the safety of a childhood cottage. Cate Shortland’s second feature film after the mesmerising Somersault is a dreamy, beautifully shot story about horrible realisation and doubt.
Shortland, much like the early work of David Gordon Green and new comer Behn Zeitln, is in huge and unmistakable debt to Terrence Malick. Her nature shots and her “curtain blowing in the breeze” eye for details surrounding her characters certainly doesn’t make the many inserts in Lore original but they are stunningly captured by Adam Arkapaw who also shot Aussie classics Snowtown and Animal Kingdom. Shortland lets the film breathe remarkably well with these dreamy shots (given the rough subject matter) and even when Lore’s faith in her country is tested by young Jewish escapee Thomas (Kai Malina) the young director lets us observe in the drama in a subtle and affecting way.
The child actors are fantastic and given that Shortland chose to shoot the whole film on location and in German (and an Australian entry for best foreign language film at this years academy awards), the touches of the actors are wonderful and incredibly real. Battling starvation and constantly hiding from Russian and American Soldiers Lore is shot through with a creepy sophisticated tension but one which comes from the small interactions on-screen more than the monstrous ones surely happening in the woods all around them.
But the film surely belongs to the young Saskia Rosendahl, a strong and beautiful performance in a film which could have lived or died by it. She isn’t presented as likeable in her ideas of course but her struggle and her growing doubt in the fatherland is totally overpowering and touching and it’s this element which makes Lore an extremely urgent and overwhelming film and a completely original character study.