While Lore refers to the diminutive name of the film’s central protagonist (Hannalore), one cannot help but refer to its English meaning for broader implications on the picture’s subject matter. Anyone with a pulse will have encountered a World War II or Holocaust film, but the historical point of reference and subject matter tends to follow the same suite – the idea that winners write the history books essentially limits our perspective. Lore presents a different vantage point. When history has acknowledged the justice served on members of the Third Reich, what of their children? Cate Shortland’s sophomore feature probes a particularly difficult subject as children are presented with ruthless ideologies in a time of division and social upheaval.
Almost uncomfortably frantic, Lore opens with Hannalore (Saskia Rosendahl, in her debut performance) destroying sensitive documents with her family. Her father dons a cap with a Swastika emblem while her household is shown in fragments, pictures of Adolf Hitler littering a corridor. Pieces of Lore communicate in this largely visual discourse, powerfully trying to get the audience entrapped in its sensitive worldview. To have Rosendahl as the film’s centerpiece is Shortland’s finest accomplishment, as she somehow manages to balance teen naivety with world-weariness. While Shortland’s visual penchant draws largely from Terrence Malick, she does bridge much the film’s imagery with more traditional narrative devices. As if not satisfied with Hannalore’s political awakening and growing understanding of the atrocities her father committed, Shortland introduces a more primal romantic component that serves as her sexual awakening. Conceptually, the two intermingle well, as Hannalore’s time as a Hitler Youth is tested as she becomes dependent on a Jewish man – repulsion and lust operate hand-in-hand as Hannalore recalibrates her ideology.
Lore eventually begins to lose its way, largely as Shortland stalls her narrative momentum in favor of visual elegance. For most of the picture, Shortland deploys various landscape and close-up shots as a means of bridging her plot. This template provides the film a somewhat elusive quality that still bared thematic resonance. But asLore shifts into a primarily visual method of storytelling, the film’s cryptic quality almost becomes indecipherable. Copious symbolic elements operate in confounding ways that shed little light on Lore’s intent. By Lore’send, one is less enraptured by the gravitas of the film’s coming-of-age narrative or unique worldview – rather, it’s the visual precision offered by Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography and Saskia Rosendahl’s performance that resonate most clearly. Which, when dealing with a film about Nazis and social upheaval, seems like a misstep.