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By Daniel Lammin
7th February 2013

We’ve waited a while for this one. Back in 2004, Australian writer-director Cate Shortland garnered serious international attention with her multi award-winning debut ‘Somersault’, an exquisite tone poem of a film for which Shortland and her two stars, Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington, were recognised both here and overseas. Eight years later, and we finally have Shortland’s follow-up, ‘Lore’, an unusual and unexpected film, in that it is set in a foreign country in a foreign language with a foreign cast and crew, but very much a companion piece to her stunning debut.

Set during the final days of the Third Reich, the film follows Lore (Saskia Rosendhalh), a German teenager from a respectable Nazi family. When Hitler is defeated, her parents abandon her, and she is left to protect her four siblings. Trekking across the wild German countryside, she leads her family with an iron will towards Hamburg and their grandmother, but with the country collapsing and the truth about the crimes of the Third Reich hitting the people like a sledgehammer, Lore finds help in the most uncomfortable of companions - a young Jewish man named Thomas (Kai Malina).

While the Nazi Regime might appear to be well-trodden ground, ‘Lore’ explores an unusual perspective of this moment in history, and without sentiment or apology. Lore is our eyes through which to view the revelations brought about by the end of the war, and eyes that don’t know anything other than a Germany under the National Socialists. Truths open up before her without mercy - what her country, her leader and her parents are been responsible for, the lies she and her country have been living. However, before the overwhelming guilt comes the anger and denial, and in Thomas she sees everything detestable, a Jew, her enemy, a man she ideologically rejects but finds herself sexually intrigued by. It feels like so long since a film discussed the intricacies of the Nazi Regime as intelligently as Shortland has done here, adapting Rachel Seiffert’s novel ‘The Dark Room’ along with screenwriter Robin Mukherjee. Shortland’s striking visual poetry is also intact here, giving a photographic perspective of a European country we aren’t used to at all. Like the best Australian directors, Shortland is a master at placing human beings within a natural landscape and making that landscape as much a character as those walking through it. There is such a breathtaking attention to the details of the German woods and fields, especially through the beautiful handheld photography of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. The film moves at the same considered pace of ‘Somersault’, but with an added air of unease and menace, the pervading undercurrent of a world thrown into unimaginable chaos, a country and a people in a state of shock, building to a disturbing and intelligent final image. Everything about the filmmaking in ‘Lore’ is impressive, and makes you even more glad to be back in Shortland’s capable hands.


In the same way she found perfection in her casting of ‘Somersault’, her leads in ‘Lore’ could not have been better. Both Rosendhahl and Malina are absolutely electrifying, as is their instant chemistry. Rosendhahl builds Lore with icy sedentary, the perfect image of a young girl bred with the Nazi ideals. Lore’s emotional journey is a complex one, and Rosendhahl navigates it with tremendous intelligence and confidence. The weight of the film rests on her shoulders, and she handles that burden without so much as a stumble. Malina brings a strong masculine darkness with Thomas, barely speaking but communicating through his striking presence. Thomas is a character that rarely gives anything away, and Malina knows exactly how to handle this. The child actors playing Lore’s siblings are also fantastic, all under the age of twelve, but possessing both wisdom and talent beyond their years.

This is the kind of film you’re relieved to realise is Australian, proof again that we are capable of creating intelligent and accomplished works of art that engage audiences both here and around the world. ‘Lore’ is a tremendous achievement, and the triumphant return of one of the most distinctive and exciting voices our industry has ever had. Though I’ve come to it criminally late, ‘Lore’ might be my Australian film of 2012.

Everything about the filmmaking in ‘Lore’ is impressive, and makes you even more glad to be back in Shortland’s capable hands.

As expected, Transmission’s transfer of ‘Lore’ is terrific, preserving the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Shortland and Arkapaw used photography of the period to create the visual tone of the film, and the disc replicates that wonderfully, with an earthy colour scheme dominated by the greens and browns of the German countryside. Grain structure is consistent and textured, giving the film a beautifully cinematic quality. The sound is also terrific, and while not being a showy sound design, the DTS HD-MA 5.1 track effectively recreates the aural landscape that has become a signature of Shortland’s films. As with the photography, composer Max Richter references the classical compositions of the period, with overtones of the discord of Penderecki and his contemporaries.

The sole extra on the disc is a 16-minute making-of featurette, but rather than being the usual EPK, it features a constant commentary from Shortland composed from various interviews, along with behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsals and casting videos. Not surprisingly, Shortland discusses the parallels the film has with Australia’s relationship to its violent colonialisation of our own country, and where the roots of ‘Lore’ lie for her personally as an artist. It’s a terrific little featurette, covering the development and shooting of the film, and how Shortland worked with a German cast and crew, and creating a film in a foreign language.

RELEASE DATE: 06/02/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 49m
CAST: Saskia Rosendahl - Lore
Nele Trebs - Liesel
André Frid - Günther
DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
WRITERS: Cate Shortland
Robin Mukherjee
PRODUCERS: Karsten Stöter
Liz Watts
Paul Welsh
Benny Drechsel
SCORE: Max Richter
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