Thursday, 13 September 2012


Transmission Films
Now Showing

Should the sins of the father be visited upon the child? That's one of the questions you may struggle with while watching Australian director Cate Shortland's Lore, a German-language drama which invites us to both empathise and sympathise with a group of siblings -- children of Nazi parents -- as they make their way cross-country during the dying days of the Third Reich.

With the Allied forces dividing the German nation between them, and Hitler, his mistress and cronies having taken their own lives in the Fuhrer's bunker, Hannelore (impressive screen debutant, Saskia Rosendahl), eldest of the children, is left in charge of her younger siblings when her parents face (or flee) their fate at the hands of the Allies.

Forced to fend for themselves, Hannelore, her sister, twin brothers, and a baby, all blue-eyed and blonde-haired and the epitome of the Aryan race, make their way north from Bavaria, on foot, to grandma's house in some darkened twist on a fairy tale.

But who are the wolves? The Allies, whom the children are wary of and keep their distance from? Or are they the growing doubts that Hannelore begins to have about the ideologies of her beloved Fuhrer, and the atrocities which may have been committed in the name of the Motherland?

At various refugee camps where they stop, Allied soldiers force the Germans to look at photographs of the emaciated bodies in concentration camps before they are allowed to eat or bathe. Penance for their sins? It's here that Hannelore's eyes are gradually opened to the 'glory' of the Third Reich.

Sensitive to their plight, and understandably attracted to the beautiful 16-year-old Hannelore, is Thomas (Kai Malina), a young man who may or may not be a former prisoner of said death camps, but who is willing to escort Hannelore and her siblings.

Struggling to cling to her indoctrinated hatred for the Jews, Hannelore must also struggle with her burgeoining sexuality; her curiosity inflamed by the presence of this man whose attentions she both craves and despises.

Lore, just Shortland's second feature, and her first since her much lauded 2004 debut, Somersault (which launched the international careers of both Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington), is an accomplished, troubling and puzzling sophomore outing.

Beautifully shot (kudos to Oz lenser Adam Arkapaw who also shot Animal Kingdom and Snowtown), and scored (Max Richter), and superbly acted by the young cast, Shortland intends for Lore, adapted by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee, from a story in Rachel Seiffert's 2001 novel, The Dark Room, to get under your skin. And it does.

But what Lore failed to do for me was provide an emotional connection. While I could empathise with Hannalore and her siblings' predicament (more so the youngsters and particularly when tragedy strikes), I found it nigh on impossible to sympathise.

But they're only children, I can hear you say. They know not what they (or their parents) do. And that's a perfectly valid argument. For me, however, I struggled to feel sorry for Hannelore. Call it a belief in karma or a minor case of schadenfreude, but the suffering of this (naive?) disciple of Nazism failed to move me: I didn't enjoy her misery but I didn't cry for her either.

Then again, I don't think Cate Shortland's intentions with Lore was to provide easy catharcisism. Eight years between feature films (seven of those spent developing Lore), and a husband whose Jewish family fled Germany ahead of the Holocaust, leads me to believe that the director had something to say and questions to ask.

That Shortland leaves the audience questioning their own beliefs -- morals and prejudices -- is a mark of success. Film is art, and art -- good art -- will always provoke discussion and debate. It can also be admired without necessarily being embraced.

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