Lore: A Story of Abandonment and Survival
by Sara Fabian
Try to imagine a post-war apocalypse. Often Germany’s immediate post-World War II history has been largely ignored by filmmakers. A recent exception, “Lore,” feels terrifyingly real. This dark film is told from the point of view of defeated Germans after WWII.
It’s Germany, 1945, and Hitler is dead. The Allies are rounding up Nazi commanders, politicians and activists. We meet Lore (played by Saskia Rosendahl) a pretty, blond-haired, 14-year-old girl raised under Nazi ideals since her father is a high-ranking SS officer. Her father is forced to leave for a prison camp – but not before he burned documents and medical records of his atrocious crimes.
Lore’s mother follows her father shortly after, telling Lore to take her little brothers and sisters through the Black Forest to their grandmother’s house. Taking whatever money and jewelry she can find, Lore takes her siblings – younger sister Liesel, twins Jürgen and Günter, and baby brother Peter – through a harrowing adventure meeting bands of citizens on the way.
Like the bleakest fairytale you can imagine, these babes are in the woods embarking on a journey, shedding their innocence with every step. This is the land of the defeated. Though we don’t see any actual violence, there are bodies everywhere, decaying and covered with insects. In one startling scene, a man backs away from Lore crying, ”Child, you smell of death!” The stench of evil has even contaminated the air.
At the beginning of their 500-mile trek, Lore and her siblings reach a rustic building full of refugees. She meets a Jewish refugee named Thomas, an encounter that changes Lore forever. He immediately becomes a father figure to Lore and her siblings and the only real sentimental depiction of affection and tolerance.
Thomas’s motives for staying with them are complicated. He is sexually attracted to Lore, although, with great confusion and humiliation, she makes the first move. He doesn’t reciprocate. Is Thomas really Jewish or just pretending in order to secure sympathy from the Allies? He roams with the children through the fields, forests, run down shelters and bombed-out homes of a devastated Germany scavenging for food.
Rosendahl renders an astonishing portrayal of Lore, breathing truth into every line. Her character is very much her father’s daughter. She is a naive follower of Hitler Youth, but during her journey, the spell is broken. Slowly the truth is revealed – that she has been lied to by both her parents and society.
Lore delves deeper into self-discovery, not only through the sacrifice of her childhood, but into the complicit Kool-Aid so many Germans drank that led to ultimate ruin. Lore’s inner conflict and identity crisis is that of her entire generation, even though she denies it at first. Lore can’t help the growing disillusionment she feels from the values that she once thought true which can no longer be reconciled with the chaos of her radically shifting environment and reality.
There is a pivotal scene when Lore sees posters put up by the Allies – images of concentration camps and piles of bodies heaped on top of each other like a human junkyard. She compares a photogaph of her father in SS uniform with one she finds of a group of Nazi officers overseeing the mass slaughter of Jews. It is not clear whether she connects her father with the mass genocide, but her later action leaves no doubt that in this moment she has lost her innocence; she buries both pictures beneath some straw.
“Lore” has been called a spiritual sequel to 2009’s “The White Ribbon,” and rightly so. Michael Haneke’s chilling exploration of youth explains the origins of Fascism in Germany through the brutal Protestant culture of the turn of the century. “The White Ribbon” is a brutal film in relation to “Lore” because they are Lore’s ancestors and predecessors. Shortland’s work, however, offers a glimmer of hope.
Lore is given the opportunity to smash the idols of her upbringing, while the older generations in “Lore” are portrayed as stubborn and psychologically fragile in the wake of defeat. Lore herself becomes a pillar of strength. This film is grueling (as it should be) in relentlessly confronting the viewer with the misery, humiliation and desolation of a crestfallen nation of people, whose grandiose image of themselves has been smashed to rubble, along with their cities and infrastructure. What we are left with is a depiction of the end of the world.
“Lore” is currently available on Netflix.