An Australian-German collaboration by director Cate Shortland (Somersault) and based on Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 Booker Prize short-listed novel ‘The Dark Room’, Lore follows the journey of Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), the daughter of an SS officer at the fall of the Third Reich, forced to flee her home with her four young brothers and sisters when her parents are taken away by the allied forces. To survive, she must accept the help of a young Jewish man, Thomas (Kai Malina) who lies to save them, telling the American soldiers he is their brother.
Tense and beautiful, the drama of the film forms a restrained tableau of a German springtime in full bloom, with stunning impressionistic cinematography portraying the aftermath of war: death, lice and rape, hunger and mud. Each and every shot works in still-frame as a piece of photographic art fit for a gallery wall, and the result is a stunning fusion of beauty and death.
As the hunters become the hunted, the relationship between Lore and Thomas is at the film’s centre. With her learnt repulsion to his Jewishness, mixed with a natural attraction, and her dependence on him for survival, the dynamic is played out by the two actors with excruciating restraint.
It’s only fairly recently that the cinema world has been ready for films that paint Nazi supporters in sympathetic light, and their Jewish victims and survivors with anything less than respectful reverence. It’s a step that Shortland took deliberately, and so Lore is more complicated than that. To survive, Thomas, with Lore complicit, must be all the things that she has learnt that Jews always are; he lies, he steals and worse, and with so little known about him, he remains a blank canvas on which to project her worst fears and deepest desires. Lore herself is limited, being both young and deeply affected by her Nazi upbringing. Her emergence into a new reality is bumpy and ungraceful, and both characters remain palpably flawed and impossible to judge.