The credits rolled and I was overjoyed to see a woman’s name, Cate Shortland, as Director of such a strong and dynamic feature, followed by editor Veronika Jenet, and to later discover the source novelist is also a woman, Rachel Seiffert. Strength is by no means a surprising characteristic of female filmmakers, as proven by the works of Catherine Bigelow, Jane Campion, Lynn Ramsay, or So-yong Kim, but the ratio of male to female filmmakers still seems far too uneven.
As more and more names scrolled across the screen and the lights rose, I thought I was fine to leave. I stood up satisfied I had seen a good film, but as I took a few paces I was suddenly gripped by a shudder deep inside my body. The credits scrolled still, the music played and I sit back down. Leaning forward, hand over mouth, eyes wide, I fought tears. I had seen a great film, and my heart had broken. More to the point, the hearts broken in the film had transposed themselves into my chest.
Shortland’s purely cinematic storytelling, her honed attention to physicality, and her manipulation of tone is so cumulatively effective that I was blindsided at the end. At the behest of an usher eager to ready the theater for the next film, I walked into the lobbly and tried to compose myself, reading the schedule for the next days screenings. The words were impossible to absorb, and I knew I had to feel what I was feeling all the way through. My ears rung and my eyes were sore with violence. Lore had entered into me through my senses, and for that reason, it inhabited me fully.
Only a handful of films have had this effect on me, Ozon’s Time To Leave, Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark, and Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense to name those few. Each with their own drama tied to the senses and their cinematic language sensual. I skipped the next film and walked home on a kind of auto pilot, not truly conscious of where I was. I vibrated on the experience of Lore. For the first time in a long time, the power of cinema had conquered me.
Lore presents a distinct vision, and an inversion of the expected holocaust perspective, though it is critical to say that this is not a Holocaust film. Lore‘s characters are the children of wealthy devout Nazi parents at the close of the Third Reich. It is a story of these children, abandoned by their war criminal parents, who must negotiate the shattering of their realities, and traverse a brooding near-mythical landscape to get somewhere safe in a Germany that doesn’t exist anymore. The music, urgent and fully present, helps to mythologize and emote, while the visual language is so competent towards generating tactility and disillusionment, that it isn’t until the very end that you realize…. Lore has been accumulating small details of great import. Sensuality, savagery, eroticism, sounds. In its war-torn wanderlust, Lore recalls the dredging final installment of Kobayashi’s The Human Condition with as much of a crush to the soul.
Shortland creates dynamic and forceful symbolisms through physical objects and experiences throughout, and finds beautiful ways to imply violence and sexuality, while also using other opportunities to be explicit. A “coming of age tale” is a cheap way to describe a film about a group of siblings coming out of the daydream of Nazi dominance, into a perilous world of ambiguity and survivalism, but it is one. For eldest sister Hannelore (played resplendently by first time actress Saskia Rosendahl), of whom the film’s namesake is drawn, this is her awakening.
Though given the feel of a nightmare, this seemingly surreal journey across an unfamiliar land is more real than whatever the children had been convinced of in their short lives; the altruism of Nazism, the impending victory of Germany, the nobility of their parents, etc. All of this is fantasy is shattered with resounding waves as the sickening truths of the holocaust are extolled alongside a new life of pure struggle. Hannelore’s transformation from a girl with adoring eyes toward the Feurer and her soldier father, into to a young woman, is entwined in the disillusionment of a mutated Germany. Her fractured sense of self and her awakening sexuality are inseparable from the primal and fearful survivalism she is driven to.
The final frames of the film emblematize the damage that has been done to Lore, who must reconcile a world that abounds in un-truths and impurity, as well as endure the stain that weeks of weary traveling have left on her heart, her mind, and her body. She will never forget what she has endured, because it is part of her senses, just as I will never forget this film because it is part of mine.
Lore is now playing at the Ritz at the Bourse.