In 2009 Michael Haneke made The White Ribbon, a striking study of the children who would become the generation responsible for Nazism as adults. The Australian/German co-production Lore could be regarded as an unofficial companion piece about the generation that followed; the children of Nazi sympathisers. Shot in crisp black and white with deeply focused depth-of-field, The White Ribbon visually presents an attitude of stark oppositions and order to represent an emerging fascist and authoritarian mentality. In a striking contrast Lore is misty, filled with dark colours and mostly shot with a handheld camera to suggest a lack of stability in post-World War II Germany where the war is lost and the country’s dictatorship has ended. This almost dreamlike view of the world belongs to the film’s protagonist Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), a teenage girl from a pro-Nazi family, who must travel across country with her younger siblings. Not only is her physical journey an arduous and difficult one, but her entire belief system is being turned upside-down as she begins to learn what the Nazis really stood for and the atrocities they committed.
Along with an excellent crew that includes cinematographer Adam Arkapaw and sound designer Sam Petty, writer/director Cate Shortland has created an evocative series of landscapes and soundscapes for Lore to move through on her quest towards safety, moral clarity and emerging sexuality. Her feelings for a mysterious and possibly dangerous young man Thomas (Kai Malina) further confuses her as she experiences desire as well as the racial disgust her parents instilled in her. Shortland uses devices such as low lighting and shooting through glass and water to create an uncertain and strange view of the world. Nothing is as it seems anymore.
Similar to the protagonist in Shortland’s previous feature film Somersault (2004) Lore is a tactile person who seems to need to touch things around her to make sense of what is going on. The sense of texture in the film is most effective when Lore touches the freshly glued photos of Holocaust atrocities. Her fingers come away with glue still stuck to them, which then remains as if the realisation of what the Nazis did has travelled physically through her and she is now stuck with the horrific knowledge.
Lore frequently wears blue and is often associated with water. The colour blue and water motifs are often used to indicate life, but water can also symbolise transformation and blue can also symbolise melancholy. In Lore both are also used to represent Lore’s strange innocence, despite her racist upbringing, and the potential for the tides of time to wash away people in its path. Water is used by characters attempting to cleanse themselves yet paradoxically it is often associated with violence.
There are so many more touches that make Lore the accomplished film that it is – Max Richter’s rhythmic score used to build intensity and Lore’s chapped lips making it look like she is wearing lipstick, linking her physical hardship to her sexuality. One remarkable early scene has the ash of incinerated Nazi documents raining down on Lore and her sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), evoking the stories told by people living in towns near concentration camps about the human ash from the ovens falling from the sky.
Lore’s sexual, intellectual and ethical coming-of-age journey is expressed by Shortland’s highly subjective rendering of the landscapes that Lore and her siblings physically move through, where they are confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust and war, and have to make awful decisions in order to survive. This is a film rich in symbolism and ideas, which would have been overwhelming or too obvious if handled by a less talented filmmaker. However, Shortland has done an extraordinary job making such a bleak story into a deeply fulfilling and beautiful film. Lore is an impressionist survival film and an existential war film, and also something truly singular and remarkable.