The Australian director Cate Shortland has made a quite stunning film about the collapse of Nazi Germany, seen not from a Berlin bunker but through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl whose SS father and mother, complicit in war atrocities, have disappeared to face the music.
Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), now in loco parentis, must conduct her four younger siblings from the family home in Bavaria to their grandmother's farm, 500 miles to the north outside Hamburg. Travelling on foot through a countryside littered with corpses and scavenged by starving natives like themselves, the children survive by trading their parents' jewellery for food, ever mindful of the occupying forces – Russian and American – closing in.
What Shortland superbly reveals is a nation in denial of its crimes, such as the scene in which an old German matron stares at a portrait of the late Führer and says, "We broke his heart... he loved us so much."
In Lore herself this devotion to the Fatherland fights with a dawning awareness of the colossal infamies that have been committed in its name, notably witnessed in photographs of piled corpses (people still claim they are faked). Only when a Jewish survivor of the camps, Thomas (Kai Malina), attaches himself to the family do we see how madly divided is Lore, contemptuous and clinging at once.
Shortland directs with a rigorous honesty, and prospers from at least three vital decisions: first, to film the script in German; second, to hire the brilliant cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Snowtown) whose images of nature and decay are so haunting; third, to have chosen the remarkable Saskia Rosendahl to play the lead, an unsympathetic character yet fiercely and fallibly human to her fingertips. This is an outstanding piece of work.
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