It is Important to note of the bat that though this film is in German it is not actually a German production. Written and directed by an Aussie in Cate Shortland and funded by the Brits behind the National Lottery Lore is a largely Anglophilic film and this is important for a number of reasons: one is the Oscar presentation ( we are entering it into the Foreign Language category) second is the political ramifications ( the content could not be put forward by a German withous some furor) and finally of course there is the obvious one, language.
To us the title means something very different than it does the Germans; to them it is a name, a proper noun, but to English speakers it is an almost philosophical term and this separation is significant, representative of the film as a whole in many ways. It is a small story of a single girl but also one about something much larger, it is a simple story on the surface but a striking one on the layers below. It is the rare instance where something truly unique is gained in translation.
The two specific meanings of the title are as follows: firstly the films protagonist is called Hannalore, or Lore for short, and secondly it describes the themes depicted within. Lore is often described as ‘a body of knowledge’, specifically one held by a single culture or source, it is in other words a history of sorts and so is this film. The Holocaust is an essential turning point for humanity and though it has now become an overtold section of our history this version finds a new take on the tale, a new perspective, that of the innocent nazi’s ( and that’s not a contradiction in terms). It’s certainly an unexpected choice for the concept of an Aussie film, but it is certainly a depressing enough one.
I’m not being glib when I say that the specific story of Lore is something of an arthouse Hunger Games: a girl on the precipice of womanhood is tasked with protecting her family in a dictator lead dystopia that is devolving before her eyes into a mess of poverty, power struggles and perversions of justice. Though games play just as pivotal a part here their role is much less literal; Lore and her family are shown acting childishly along their journey just as often as they are adult. The two boys catch turtles and break windows with sticks, the little sister skips and when made to sing for a man Lore recites eagerly the equivalent of ‘ The Wheels on the Bus’ or some such, missing the mood entirely.
In a similar way the picture also dedicates a lot of time to preening, to the characters ‘making themselves beautiful’; ironic considering the chapped lips, bruised legs and spilt blood that is to come. Since the film is very sensual in a literal sense – almost tactile in its technique – and these shots allow her to express that, to elicit those emotions, to focus on the simple sights and sounds of the experience, making us feel them all as if we are also there, these scenes could simply be seen as Shortland showing off, contriving for the cinematic visuals, but I think that there is much more to it than that.
In this arena both beauty and innocence become almost absurd concepts; how can they exist in this world? That to me seems to be the point and the picture is showing the usually ugly brutality in beautiful ways to highlight this inherent conflict. Childhood too became something of a strange concept at the time in that it was one that they almost stopped: the deer was stomped on, the doe dead and the acts Hitler ordered so horrific that the innocence of the whole world was lost. This is our history of the holocaust, but even it is not so simple in Shortland’s hands.
Could you empathize with the nazi’s who didn’t know what they were doing, or did but didn’t know better? This is the question constantly asked by Lore; the film in many ways shaped to be a journey of empathy, seeing just how far we will extend our emotions to these people. Interestingly the question is never “Can we?” even after all these years of Nazi’s being the second safest option for slaughter, second only after zombies, we are still able to be hooked into seeing them as human and caring for them when the film wants us to; that is the trick of cinema.
We see women and children and we instantly envision innocence, supporting them through the screen. When they mourn the loss of the man that they knew as a saviour we almost feel the sorrow too despite personally thinking him the polar opposite. When the words “dirty Jew” are shouted it hurts, but mainly because we want to like the owner of the mouth that they are coming from. There is even a murder that we partly root for, because it will mean the progress of our protagonist. We are then, in other words, sucked in to the same trap that they were, our empathy corrupted, our caring disproportionate and the results devilish.
It’s scary to see how simple it would be to become a nazi or the equivalent now; the conversations that the characters have justifying their past behaviors and denying the future ones as fraud are the same as those currently being held in places like Syria and the Sudan, where slaughters are written off as necessary and protests as US acted propaganda and although on a smaller scale ( I hope) similar to those held here too about Immigration, Iraq and the treatment of Indiginous people. Who knows in sixty years time who the villains of this era will be, what corruptions will be uncovered and who will be given the blame?
So in short Lore is a captivating glance at the corrosion of our culture’s childhood as caught by the classically talented eye of our own Cate Shortland. Sure the amateur actors are all amazing in their roles, the scenery stunning on its own and the historical setting even more so but where Shortland really shines is in her subversions, she never simply allows something to stand on pre-established strength and so she earns all of the praise sent her way.
That said this film will not be enjoyable for everyone, the mixed reactions it received even among an art-house crowd at the Nova will attest to that – anything to do with the Nazi mindset got shocked giggles and tsks from some – but it will without a doubt be a powerful and perhaps even persuasive one if you let it.