Judge Gordon Sullivan reminds that Adolf Hitler was a nightmare that predates the internet.
When your life is a lie, who can you trust?
No one has been able to adequately explain Hitler's appeal. The infamous psychologist Wilhelm Reich took some 600 pages to demonstrate that the German people were psychically blocked with masochistic tendencies, which created a need for the most sadistic leader possible. Siegfried Kracauer claimed it was the permissiveness and escapism of Weimar-era culture that invited Hitler's stern, authoritarian control. Neither seems like a sufficiently good explanation for Hitler's apparent effect on the German population. At rallies, people were known to faint or lose bladder control, and that's just the personal effect his presence had. Obviously his policies put into play genocide and the Holocaust as well. Despite all that monstrosity, Hitler had a devoted following, and Lore takes up the story of one family of loyal Nazis after the Allied victory is assured, following them through their attempts to flee. It's a heartfelt, carefully observed drama that will please fans of international cinema.
Facts of the Case
Lore starts right at the heart of the story: a harried family packs for a rushed trip, and we gather from tiny details that they're Nazis and the Allies have won the war. Our focus is on Lore (newcomer Saskia Rosendahl), the eldest daughter of Nazi parents. She must lead her four siblings to her grandmother's house across occupied Germany, facing threats from all sides and learning the true nature of what their parents fought for.
On paper, Lore sounds like the worst, most self-indulgent attempt to get audience sympathy. Any film set in the Nazi era is automatically suspicious, as it's so easy to push buttons by invoking either the unsympathetic Nazis or the very sympathetic Jews. There's something cheap about the idea of following the awakening of the child of Nazi parents, since we already know how monstrous her parents are and how terrible the aftermath of the concentration camp revelations will be it would be easy to demonize Lore, or too easy to sympathize with her as her life falls apart around her.
Amazingly, Lore largely avoids cheap sentiment, instead offering a hard-won emotional journey. The first ingredient in this winning recipe is lots of handheld camera movement. The film sticks largely to closeups, minutely observing the major difficulties and minor triumphs that Lore and her siblings encounter on their journey. The handheld camera also keeps things from getting too bogged down in stately camera movements or attempts to give any false weight to Lore's experiences. The intimacy of this approach doesn't allow us to stand too far away to judge Lore and her family, but the constant movement ensures we don't too easily identify with her and her Nazi past quite so easily either.
The other secret ingredient in Lore's success is the talent in front of the camera. A bit too much underacting or overacting could easily ruin a film as delicately balanced as this one. Newcomer Rosendahl anchors everything with a performance that is both moving and subtle. In small moments she has to register the simultaneous horror of her parents' legacy and her continuing circumstances. We register that her world is falling apart, but rather than showing us that rupture, director/co-writer Cate Shortland lets Rosendahl carry the day. The rest of Lore's family are played to Aryan perfection by a quartet of younger actors, and those whom they meet on the road are given equally impressive casting choices. Again, Lore has the potential to go off the rails at any moment, and the gravity of the performers is one of the few things keeping the film on track.
The film is also kept on track by Lore (Blu-ray). The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is pretty stunning. The film was shot on Super 16mm stock, and both the sharpness and grain are present here. Fine object detail in close-ups is always impressive, color saturation is accurate to the intended look (a bit to the blue side of things), and black levels are deep. Overall there's a filmlike quality to the transfer that's helped by the excellent rendering of grain. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is a minimalist delight. The German dialogue is clean and clear (with English subtitles provided) and the unobtrusive score is perfectly balanced. The surrounds are mainly used for atmospherics.
Extras start with a 16-minute making-of featurette that mixes interview footage and behind the scenes shots. The film gets an historical ground with "Memories of a German Girl," an interview with Angela Greiner who was a little girl during the era of Nazi Germany. A little over 5 minutes of deleted scenes are included, along with an "alternate ending" and a panel discussion about the film. The trailer is also included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can see a lot of potential viewers being stopped by the premise of Lore. Why, after all, should they give time to the coming-of-age of the child of Nazis? It's a good question, and I think the film does a fine job answer the challenge, but not everyone is going to like that answer. The film has its share of tension as well, but those looking for pulse-pounding thrills will be sorely disappointed by the somewhat lackadaisical pace of Lore. Finally, all the mannerisms—the close-ups, the elliptical takes—that make Lore stand out from other dark dramas might also irritate some viewers. Those looking for straightforward filmmaking will want to give Lore a pass.
Lore is not Friday night popcorn viewing. It tells a harrowing story with visceral impact through some excellent performances and some interesting choices in camera movement. This will likely appeal to those who prefer European cinema or are looking for a drama far off the beaten track. Viewers should also look out for newcomer Saskia Rosendahl who could become the next hot import from Germany. With a Blu-ray that's solid both in audiovisual presentation and informative extras, Lore is worth at least a rental to those whose interest is piqued by the strange tale of a young woman's coming of age as the Nazis fall.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
• Alternate Ending
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