Emotional 'Lore' tells the story of a daughter of Nazis forced to watch after her siblings
An emotional tale of family life in post-World War II Germany
A scene from "Lore," a film by director Cate Shortland. (Courtesy of Music Box Films / February 5, 2013)
“When we released the film in Australia, we were not able to say it was based on a true story,” says Shortland. “The family had a very complicated reaction to the film, but in the end they realized this was important and something that spurred a worthwhile discussion.”
Not surprisingly, the film tackles a very difficult topic. Set in May 1945 in a defeated Germany, Lore (played by riveting newcomer Saskia Rosendahl) is the eldest daughter of a privileged German family. Her sheltered life is shattered as the Allied forces sweep across the land, her SS father is arrested and her mother also surrenders. Lore is forced to take charge of her four young siblings, including her unweaned baby brother, and must travel across the devastated country to reach the safety of her grandmother's house. Along the way they meet a mysterious Jewish refugee who becomes intrinsic in their survival.
Not only is it a day-by-day struggle, but a stark emotional awakening as she realizes the reality and consequences of the actions of her Nazi parents. “I thought what was so interesting is to make a film about the children of perpetrators and how they cope with knowing the truth of what their parents have done. They thought their father was a war hero and then discover he was a mass murderer,” says Shortland. “I am interested in that corruption of power and what that does to young people.”
“Lore” is Shortland's first film since her highly lauded 2004 film debut “Somersault,” which was entered at Cannes and launched the international careers of its fledgling stars, Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington. But with such an intense focus on its success (it walked away with a sweeping 13 awards at 2004‘s Australian Film Institute Awards), Shortland found it tough to figure out her next move. “All that praise doesn't help you become a better filmmaker,” she says.
“I got a lot of offers after ‘Somersault,' including some lucrative offers from Hollywood, but I couldn't see the importance of making any of them,” she says. While her life took vastly different turns (including moving to South Africa to work for a non-governmental organization near Soweto), the seeds of her next project were planted when she was given the book “The Dark Room” by Rachel Seiffert (a winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize in 2002 ), on which the film is based.
“I never read anything like it before. There was this massive historical perspective but told in such incredible visual and beautiful detail,” she says.
It was also a topic close to her heart, as her husband, fellow filmmaker Tony Kravitz, hails from a German Jewish family that left Berlin in 1936 and later migrated to Australia. “It was also his grandmothers' stories that tied me to Lore, wanting to understand this dark and painful time,” she says. In one poignant scene, actual family photos were used.
Writing the script, translating it into German and shooting the entire film in a language and a country she was not from proved an enticing challenge. “Although I didn't speak the language, I knew the film had to be made in German to have any level of truth. I was terrified but also excited about making a film in Germany. I was just this anonymous filmmaker. It didn't feel like people were watching what I was doing,” she says.
Before making the film she held workshops in Berlin with former members of the Hitler Jugend to understand their experiences. “You have a certain prejudice or belief in your mind, and I felt such anger at what had happened, so the process of making this film was really challenging for me to understand,” she adds. “To see that when they were 11 years old, losing Hitler was like losing a member of their family because that is what they were taught to believe.”
With Lore, Shortland achieves a poetic film that interweaves personal, political and the stark reality of survival under brutal conditions. She is also hoping that it will spur continued discussion.
“You don't make a film just because of the history it represents but also what it means now,” she says. “I'm hoping people will see this film and think what it means to be a bystander. Every day we see terrible things and we turn away. I think this film can create a dialogue of what it means to grow up with a responsibility to each other and for those who are pushed away or persecuted.”
"Lore" opens Feb. 8 at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena (also at Laemmle's Royal Theatre in West L.A.)
KATHERINE TULICH writes about film for Marquee.