Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A WWII "survivor" story -- from the other side: Cate Shortland's quietly grueling LORE

At this point in time, we're relatively used to films about survivors of World War II. Most often these tell the story of escape from the Nazi genocide against the Jews. One of the things (and fortunate-ly not the only one) that makes LORE -- the new movie from Cate Shortland -- so impressive is that her film is told totally from the point of view of a German Nazi family as the war winds down, with the family's father, a Nazi officer, well aware of what lies in store for the losing side. This is strong stuff, surprising and unsettling in equal doses. The great thing about Lore is that it forces us to confront attitudes and behavior that we find appalling yet, so far as the human beings that hold these are concerned, we must identify with and understand them. Not many movies allow us this opportunity.

Fortunately Ms Shortland (shown at right) -- who directed the film and co-adapted it (with Robin Mukherjee) from the novel by Rachel Seiffert -- has made her movie unusually beautiful to view (without it ever being merely "pretty") and full of the sights and sounds of raw nature (as well as some very raw human nature). She has then cast it with actors whose beauty of face and body run counter to the ugliness of their ideas and actions, which also provides an additional layer of welcome irony. In her leading lady, especially -- newcomer Saskia Rosendahl, below, whom we are certain to be seeing more of, and soon -- she has found an actress able to negotiate the rapids and shoals, literal and symbolic, of this peril-laden trip across a suddenly divided Germany.

Because all its leading characters, save one, are the film's true protagonists, the movie places us within the minds and hearts of German Nazis about as well as anything I've yet seen. The cavalier disgust with and hatred of Jews, the worship of the Fuhrer, the sense of entitlement that surely must have accompanied most families of mid-to-high-ranking Nazi officers -- all this is here and so effortlessly expressed that we are constantly taken aback, even as we begin to empathize, by the crass and nasty attitudes on display.

Once the family's father and mother are gone -- rather quickly, too -- the oldest daughter Hannelore (Lore for short) must lead the family, which includes four other children, the youngest still an infant, on a long and perilous journey. And while their trip across a gorgeous countryside (stay out of the cities, they are warned) in order to reach their beloved grandmother's house is fraught with terrors, on they must go.

Along the way they band together and bond with a young Jewish refugee from the camps, Thomas (Kai Malina, above) who consistently helps the family despite its obvious loathing of him. This is particularly true of the older children, especially Lore, who is coming into womanhood and finds herself attracted to Thomas (as he is to her) despite her revulsion for what he is.

 All of this is handled with utter believability, almost no melodrama and none of the inspirational drivel that you might expect from a subject like this. And since the story includes everything from sex and sudden death to stealing and murder, this is no small accomplishment on the filmmakers' part.

And while change of a sort has arrived by the end of the film, it is clearly only a single step in a process that will be a long time com-ing and could just as easily leave our protagonist bereft as hopeful. What we witness at the film's conclusion seems to call into question an entire life history. That's a hard one, but it's also a start.

Lore, another fine example of the offerings from Music Box Films, was Australia's submission for Best Foreign Language Film (most of it is spoken in German), but it didn't make even the shortlist. Perhaps a tale featuring Nazi protagonists did not please the Academy, though in terms of quality, the film is certainly as good or better than a couple that did make the cut. In any case, Ms Shortland's movie opens this Friday in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema; in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's new Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7; and in Irvine at Edwards' Westpark 8. To view all currently scheduled playdates across the country, click here and then click on THEATERS in the task bar, mid-screen.

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