The teen daughter of an SS officer leads her siblings through Germany in the days after the surrender and experiences, first-hand, the horrors their family helped create. That’s the promise of “Lore,” a German drama based on a Rachel Seiffert novel. It’s a promise the movie generally keeps.
But this coming-of-age tale is also about the sexual awakening of Lore (Saskia Rosendahl, quite good), and the distraction of hormones may explain some of her inability to grasp the monstrous crimes that Vati (Father, Hans-Jochen Wagner) perpetrated, and that his Good Nazi bride (Ursina Lardi) knew about all along.
That’s a running theme here, the good “volk” of the Fatherland, still humming Hitler Youth tunes, followers of Der Fuhrer who are only sad that “We let him down.” That’s who the kids encounter and get aid from as they flee from their Black Forest home when American soldiers arrest their parents. The day they’re frantically packing, Lore’s only question of her mother is about when “the Final Victory” is scheduled.
Lore, sister Liesl (Nele Trebs), their younger twin brothers and an infant are blond and blue eyed Aryan ideals, a regular Nazi Von Trapp clan on the run from Americans, who “kill all the children,” rape the women and commit unspeakable crimes against the vanquished Germans – or so Mutti (Mother) preaches.
They must make it to their grandmother’s house, outside of Hamburg. Occupying armies are divvying up the country, so there are “zones” to pass through, starving refugees like themselves to contend with and dangers at every corner.
The trains aren’t running. Anarchy is setting in. They have no adult supervision, and a baby with them, and a shrinking parcel of family jewelry to feed him with.
Budgetary restraints mean that Cate Shortland’s film skimps on showing us the devastation. She settles on the odd visit to a wrecked school, bodies of those raped and murdered, or Nazi suicides. These barely interrupt the sylvan landscape of May that they’re passing through. That bucolic world of green trees and flowers is supposed to contrast the ugly reality that millions of Germans were facing, but the contrast is thinly backed up.
There’s a mysterious young man, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina) who seems to be following them, possibly drawn to the fair-haired Lore. Is he dangerous, or a potential guardian angel? Lore, apparently forgetting her wariness and losing track of the enormous burden she carries and her hunger, wrestles with possible attraction there.
Lore’s journey as a character is no more smooth than the children’s trek. One minute, she’s shocked by the Holocaust photos posted near U.S. Army bread distribution centers (ordinary Germans gripe about having to see that), revolted by the “Good Nazis” they meet on the road. The next minute, we see Lore’s own bigotry and inability to grasp that the days of Daddy persecuting Jews are over. She’s a mirror of the population she’s wandering through – slow to take down the Hitler photos from over the dinner table, slow to grasp what has been done in their name.
It’s a great setting and a great set-up for a period piece. But “Lore” is an engrossing but frustrating movie, so subtle in its depiction of a teenager struggling to come to terms with a world and worldview utterly upended that it almost trivializes the tragedy that Lore, we suspect, is just beginning to feel responsible for.
MPAA Rating: unrated with graphic violence, references to rape and a Holocaust subtext.
Cast: Saskia Rosendahl, Ursina Lardi, Kai-Peter Malina, Nele Trebs, Hans-Jochen Wagner
Credits: Co-written and directed by Cate Shortland, based on the Rachel Seiffert novel. A Music Box release.
Running time: 1:49