Told through the eyes of a Nazi-indoctrinated teenager leading her siblings on a trek to promised safety in the immediate aftermath of World War II, “Lore” offers a fresh, intimate and mostly successful perspective on Germany’s traumatic transition from conqueror nation to occupied state. Played in a determinedly understated tone that will appeal to upscale auds and restrict broader commercial appeal, the sophomore feature by Aussie helmer Cate Shortland (2004’s “Somersault”) holds a marketing trump in the knockout lead perf by newcomer Saskia Rosendahl. World-preemed in the Sydney fest competition, the pic should generate respectable niche biz worldwide.
Adapting one of three self-contained stories in Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel “The Dark Room,” Shortland and co-scripter Robin Mukherjee start in the final days of the Third Reich. At a fancy country house, Hannelore (nicknamed Lore) Dressler (Rosendahl) is ordered to gather the family jewels while her SS officer father, Peter (Hans-Jochen Wagner), and mother, Asti (Ursina Lardi), destroy incriminating evidence.
Following Peter’s return to the front and presumed death, Asti surrenders to Allied forces. Her parting instruction to Lore is to take younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), twins Jurgen (Mika Seidel) and Gunter (Andre Frid), and baby brother Peter to their grandmother’s house, some 500 miles away near Hamburg.
Maintaining a studied, low-key approach even in the most confronting circumstances, the screenplay transports Lore into the physical wreckage and destructive emotional forces of guilt, denial and utter bewilderment engulfing fellow citizens attempting to process Germany’s capitulation.
Unwavering in her devotion to Nazi ideology whether trading silverware for food, looking at Holocaust photographs now on public display or removing a wristwatch from the corpse of a suicide victim, Lore only grows stronger in her convictions when circumstances force her and her siblings to travel with and rely on Thomas (Kai Malina), a young man holding Jewish identity papers.
Despite the unconvincing means by which the characters are brought together — an American soldier appears to comprehend everything Thomas says in German while understanding none of Lore’s words — the pic produces satisfying coming-of-age dramatics from Lore’s loss of political, social and sexual innocence in Thomas’ company.
The general air of restraint and deliberate pacing may distance viewers seeking the big, cathartic experience frequently delivered by similarly themed tales, but everyone will surely hail Rosendahl as an exciting new talent. The very picture of youthful Aryan perfection, Rosendahl essays her complex role with a maturity and assurance that keeps her character compelling despite being impossible to like for almost the entire film. Supporting perfs are strong down the line.
The technical star of the show is rising Aussie d.p. Adam Arkapaw (“Animal Kingdom”), whose lyrical compositions and subtle warming and cooling of the pic’s palette are in perfect harmony with Lore’s troubled state. Traditional strings-based score is OK, other tech work highly polished.