Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Film Notes: Lore

Cate Shortland's Film "Lore", comes highly rated. The DVD box blurb is weighted with impressive plaudits, while Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hefty approval rating high in the 90s. The awards which decorate the cover, along with the weighty subject matter all added to the sense of anticipation with which I sat down to watch it. Perhaps it is unfair to load any film with such unreasonable expectations because, despite it being a very good film - I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. Maybe if the pundits hadn't 'bigged it up' so monumentally, it would have been easier to appreciate it on its' own terms.

"Lore" concerns the plight of the eponymous character, a 14 year old German girl left in charge of her younger siblings during the collapse of The Third Reich, and the Allied invasion of her country. The grip this film has had on so many of its' admirers flows from the way in which the central dilemma of the main characters creates a tension in the viewer. This tension is transmitted by the repeated questioning of the viewer as to whether they can sympathise with the main character or not.

Lore and her siblings are the central figures, and are hugely vulnerable underdogs, in a hostile and threatening world.  In standard films, we would immediately know therefore, that these were the 'goodies', who would be threatened by 'baddies', and so the battle (of guns or wits) could commence on well-established lines. Lore is more complex than this, in that while the children in Lore are vulnerable, and central to the plot - they are in many ways ghastly characters. The parents, we learn, are absent because they are fanatical Nazis; one of whom is still fighting while the other is in Allied custody. Worse still, the indoctrination Nazi-youth ideology is so thorough in Lore and her family, that they are infected with the toxins of Aryan supremacism, anti-Semitism, Fuhrer-worship and holocaust-denial. 

The dilemma is created time and time again in the viewer in scenes such as the one in which they face trying to cross an American check-point. We are accustomed to, and comfortable with, the image of the American GI as the liberator. By the time we reach this scene, we have travelled with this little vulnerable group of children over many miles and through great suffering. The American GI is a faceless bureaucrat who does not let them pass, because of paperwork irregularities - without any regard for their plight. The film provokes us to 'side' with the kids, before then reminding us that they are representatives of the evil of Nazism, and that the American troops were indeed liberators. This tension is ratcheted up even further when they realise that the only way of explaining their lack of paperwork is to pretend to be Jewish - and therefore victims of the Hitler regime.

If the viewer is placed in the moral-dilemma of knowing where to place their sympathies in Lore - it is a dilemma which parallels the struggle going on within Lore herself. Her battle revolves around the one person who actually cares for them, provides for, and protects them on their journey across the war-ravaged remains of Hitler's Germany. The young man who does all this for them is called Thomas, and he is a Jew. Lore is depicted as being torn between all her perverse ideological instincts (which regularly rear their ugly head) to hate and despise Thomas on one hand; and the evidence of his invaluable protection on the other. Central to this evolving tension is Lore's own sexual awakening as a 14-15 year old who is trained to hate, but is increasingly attracted to Thomas.

The film is disturbing in that the scenes of carnage, bloodshed, suffering and sexual violence associated with wartorn Europe easily earn it a (15) certificate. Lore is also beautiful (not in terms of plot), but in the way that it is shot. The filmakers capture so much beauty and confusion in the way that they construct the visual aspects of Lore, that this no doubt has contributed significantly to the rave reviews.

Given the power and poignancy of the central tension of the film, which creates this parallel tension in the viewer, and the stunning cinematography; why did it fail to live up to expectations? Part of that (as suggested) is that Lore has gained expectations which are unreachably high and so some sense of anti-climax is inevitable. A bigger problem is that the filming and moral-dilemma which work so well, somewhat overwhelm the story. In fact, the narrative is rather thin, and in terms of the Thomas-character somewhat peters out. If the dilemma and filming had been mapped onto a more robust narrative, then the characters might have not merely been symbols of fixed moral positions, but might have been allowed to grow and develop more; or even become more self-aware.The end is nicely tantalising though, when we are given a hint that Lore will not forever accept the tyrannical rule of her Nazi-saturated wider family, but will gain some independence of mind. 

Lore is a troubling, beautifully shot movie, with a nice central motif of the dilemma of the central protagonist, mirrored in a tussle for the viewers empathy. It has the added advantage of being a unique film, not just a re-hash from the Hollywood formula repository. Its a very good movie - but perhaps just not as good as it claims to be on the box.

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