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The fascinating and visually stunning new WWII-era film, Lore, features a protagonist whose perspective is one not usually heard from in the genre. The movie, an Australian-German coproduction directed by Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland, takes place in Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war—Hitler has just committed suicide. Lore (played by Saskia Rosendahl), the titular character, is rushed off to a house in the countryside by her Nazi parents, who realize that they will soon face recriminations and imprisonment by the occupying Allied forces. Their fears soon prove founded, as Lore’s father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) disappears and her mother (Ursina Lardi) is raped when she attempts to find out what’s happened to him. She cuts an extremely stern figure, and orders her Lore (the eldest of a brood that includes a sister, two twin brothers, and a baby) to try to get to their grandmother’s house if she doesn’t return. From here, the picture becomes a road movie of sorts, albeit one that deviates from the normal conventions of that genre.

Making the lead character of the film a Nazi may be a risky choice, but it pays off. Lore was a member of the Hitler Youth and is not afraid to display her disgust for the Jewish people, but she is also a girl fast approaching womanhood. There is no easy resolution here, no groundbreaking discovery in which she realizes the error of her bigotry, no escape button for the viewer to push as he or she begins to sympathize with Lore. As she and her siblings travel through the post-war landscape, the acute suffering of the German people is revealed—they come across dead bodies (victims of rape and murder, presumably by occupying soldiers), mistrust and starvation. After they enter a small town, Lore sees images of the horrors of the concentration camps pinned to a wall. A villager tells her that residents are forced to stand in line and look at these pictures in order to get a loaf of stale bread, but that, surely, the pictures must be doctored. Shortland delicately balances making the viewer acutely aware of the wretched circumstances in Germany at the war’s end, while showing that even those Germans who did not participate in atrocities at least turned a blind eye to it.

Saskia Rosendahl, who plays Lore, is marvelous to watch. This young actress deftly portrays her character’s surging sexuality, which is particularly evident after the children meet up with a young man named Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina). At first, Lore is repelled by and scared of him, but slowly she becomes aware of her attraction to this mysterious figure. She is simultaneously a confident young woman and an utterly lost little girl, thrust into an unimaginable situation of being a surrogate mother to her siblings in an almost post-apocalyptic landscape.

It takes a little while for the viewer to figure out exactly what is going on as the film begins, but this seems to be an intentional (and welcome) choice by Shortland. The sound design is particularly effective as well, as the director allows echoes, buzzing flies, and ticking clocks to creep to the forefront of the soundtrack at times—a tactic that could feel gimmicky and clichéd if not handled so well. Lore is an intriguing and provocative film that seems destined to propel the careers of all involved.

Director: Cate Shortland
Writer: Cate Shortland & Robin Mukherjee (screenplay); Rachel Seiffert(novel)
Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter Malina, Ursina Lardi
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2013