My top film for this week is Cate Shortland's "Lore". Set in Germany during the time of World War II, it's a film that many may have dismissed, assuming that it treads familiar ground. I was apprehensive myself, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it feels like a wholly fresh perspective on the topic (Nazism and its effects).
The story begins in the aftermath of the war. Hitler has been defeated and much of Germany is left in disarray. One such example is the family of our title character Lore (Saskia Rosendahl). Her Nazi parents have been taken away to a prison camp, leaving her to take care of her four younger siblings. With no home left to cling to, they must pack up and make their way to Hamburg to live with their grandmother.
As they go on their journey, it becomes clear that this is not your typical World War II drama. Rather than a recreation of events, this is a challenging character study with subtle coming of age elements. Young Lore has grown up as a Nazi sympathizer and is now forced to come to terms with her family's disturbing past. Brainwashed like many others, she's shocked by the unexpected images of dead Holocaust victims. Like many of us, she wonders how people could commit these atrocities. It's a question that has stumped mankind for centuries. From slavery to genocide, human injustice has brought to societies from every corner of the globe. It's something that is difficult to understand and Rosendahl displays this inner turmoil perfectly. Her acting has a raw quality that completely draws us in to her character. Her natural youth and naivety engenders empathy while her reactions to the truth question your own ability to sympathize. Particularly upon the arrival of Thomas (a young Jewish man), her confused fragility is fascinating to watch. She suddenly has to deal with conflicted feelings of prejudice and sexual awakening.
All along the way, she's aided immensely by a fearless script. The plot brings up many familiar questions of guilt and forgiveness but it never settles for the easy answers. No one gets a big comeuppance and there are no sudden realizations of wrongdoing. It proves to be the right approach, as the legacy of the Nazi regime is a deep well of complexities. The screenwriters (Cate Shortland and Robin Mukherjee) do a great job in striking the tricky balance between humanizing these people without justifying their actions.
We've already seen various World War II films that depict the horrors that Jewish families encountered. Now with "Lore", we get the other side of the coin, as the unwitting families of the perpetrators are examined. This is a film that fully engages the viewer, accomplished through a firm hand in the director's chair. It's a fine combination of formal artistry and plot-driven narrative. I truly couldn't take my eyes off the screen. It's evident that World War II still has some vital stories left to share.