Even with so many thousands of cinematic stories inspired by the events surrounding World War II, it never fails to surprise me when I encounter something new and unexpected about that dark hour of human history.
Case in point: “Lore,” the tale of a family of children separated from their parents and forced to march hundreds of miles through uncertain territory. Here’s the twist: the kids are Germans, offspring of high-status Nazis, and their encounters with American and Russian conquerors upend everything they were ever taught.
Lore, simply by virtue of being the oldest at about 15, is designated as the leader of the intrepid group. Their mission is to find their way to their grandmother’s house, more than 500 miles away, while their parents turn themselves in to the Allied authorities. Mother (Ursina Lardi) gives them money and her jewelry to barter, but with the trains shut down it soon becomes clear their journey will be arduous.
This would be hard enough for an adult, but in addition to younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), Lore must oversee rambunctious twin boys Günther and Jürgen (André Frid and Mika Seidel) and their infant brother, Peter. The sight of this awkward little band trudging across the countryside, dressed in their upper-class clothes and pushing a baby carriage, is at once endearing and off-putting.
The role of Lore is an extremely challenging one, but Saskia Rosendahl pulls it off remarkably well. At first the audience is encouraged to root for her as she finds ways to overcome adversity, keeping her siblings alive, fed and moving toward their goal. Later, though, we learn that the horrifying lessons of the Third Reich have been instilled in her since birth, and we are repelled by her prejudices and compartmentalization of suffering.
But slowly Lore comes to question her upbringing. She’s spurred in part by photos of concentration camps that all Germans are required to view. In one, she spots a German officer who may be her father (Hans-Jochen Wagner).
Things really shift when Thomas (Kai Malina) tags along with their group, and eventually becomes their de facto protector. An older boy with thin hair and a lined face, Thomas eventually reveals himself to be a Jewish refugee of the Holocaust. Ironically, after years of being alienated and abused under the German Reich, he finds that his status as a Jew helps cut red tape at border crossings and such.
Lore is at first repulsed by having a Jew in their midst, insisting he not touch her and sit far away while eating. But she’s also attracted by his survivor’s resolve and kindness toward the children.
“Lore” was directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, who re-wrote the screenplay by Robin Mukherjee, based on a portion of the novel “The Dark Room” by Rachel Seiffert. Shortland shoots in an abstract, almost lyrical way, using close-ups of small details and shimmering images to suggest Lore becoming uncoupled from her roots, both geographically and morally.
“Lore” may be a challenging for some viewers not used to seeing the war and those affected by it from the German perspective. But it’s a worthwhile and well-told tale that is meant to discomfort the audience, not soothe them.