Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Lore:" A Review

"Lore," a nickname for the lead Hannalore, is the second film by Australian director Cate Shortland It is based on one of the three sections of "The Dark Room", Rachel Seifert's Booker-shortlisted novel and winner of the 2001 Guardian first novel award. In it five children in immediate post-war Germany are left alone in southwest Germany to fend for themselves and, if possible, get to their grandmother's house in Hamburg. So children from the Black Forest must flee and avoid evil to get to grandmother's house, all this with a ceaselessly screaming infant.

It is a lot more serious than it sounds.

The Fuhrer is dead, the Allies are everywhere, the SS father of the children is returning to his command presumably to be killed and the mother, a distraught hard woman who seems to be implicated on the medical side of the Nazi insanity, collects as many valuables as possible to give to the oldest child, the 14 year old Lore, and walks off into internment. Lore, her 12 year old sister, two 7 year old twin boys and a male infant are left behind alone in The Forest. The story involves the difficulties, terrors, dangers and savagery the children encounter on their trip and the gradual recognition by the oldest girl of her parents' and Germany's contribution to the overwhelming inhumanity of the war and to the destruction of Germany itself.

The children have whatever the imprint parents and society can make. The twins sing Hitler Youth songs but are completely ajudgmental. Lore believes in her parents and their integrity, holds the Jews responsible for much of the damage done to Germany, and like many of those she meets on her odyssey, believes the pictures of the camps are falsified propaganda.

They are joined by a stranger, Thomas, who claims to be a Jew released from Buchenwald, and who may or may not want to help. With Lore’s ingrained anti-Semitism, she does not want his help. But he may not be a Jew. Is this a clever ambiguity, a hint of man's interconnection? But he is indubitably a killer. Does the same comment apply? But he does help the children and the younger children like him. Can Lore overcome her teachings and trust him? Does it matter when he may not be a Jew? And what of Lore's surprising effort at sexual intimacy with Thomas? Did anyone in the audience think that was believable?

Perhaps there is simply too much here. The director has a reputation of interest in sexual awakening; perhaps that awakening on the stage of the greatest human-made horror in history is diminished and diminishing when compared to these other monstrous events. One gets the impression the director underestimated the story.

And there is a lot to like here. This is an unusual view of the war. It is brilliantly restrained when it would have been easy not to. There is a wonderful scene of self-realization where Lore facilitates a crime, she cries, “What have we done?” and in the next scene tries to confess to a disinterested border guard as she searches for judgment--and justice--against herself. The cinematography is beautiful, the child actors terrific and the story gripping--so much so the obvious and inevitable symbolism in the end is an anticlimax.

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