One of the very best films I saw at Boulder’s International Film Festival was Lore, and it could have easily earned BIFF’s prize for best narrative feature.
Its provocative premise turned off at least one friend who saw it. He hated the movie, whose protagonists are the well-indoctrinated children of Nazis. I think he even called them “Nazis,” not “children of Nazis,” which is an easy case to make.
Sins of the Father
Saskia Rosendahl plays Lore, the oldest daughter of 5 children in an upper-class family. Rosendahl makes her serious, fearful, courageous, yet still less than an adult. One day her uniformed father arrives in a dither and their quiet life becomes immediately hectic: suddenly they have to leave, as quickly as possible, for their second home in the mountains. Before they go, they burn papers, flags, and uniforms in a big bonfire on the driveway.
The movie takes the point of view of the children, who aren’t quite sure why everything has changed, but of course audiences will easily understand the historical context of 1944 Germany. That ironic perspective is there throughout the film; the children see the world one way, but audiences have the bigger picture in their heads. Only at the end does the most mature child begin to understand what the audience already knows.
The children arrive at their summer home, but it’s not a holiday. While playing on the hillside, they see a cloud of ash start raining down. Lore inspects a fragment of ash — a photograph of Adolf Hitler, burning into nothing. Later, her pregnant mother (Ursina Lardi) suffers a miscarriage, timed with the news of the death of the Fuhrer.
Before long, mother sets off on foot to face the courts — a nice vague, plausible explanation for the kids. Their father has already gone. Mother thinks her children will be safer without her, and in the capable hands of teenaged Lore.
On the Road
The children “Heil Hitler” their neighbors, but the greeting is not returned. The neighbors seem to resent the clean, healthy children, and it doesn’t take long for them to find a reason to force them to leave. One of the twins, Gunther or Jurgen (André Frid and Mika Seidel), stole some bread. “The Americans have special prisons for boys like you,” they threaten.
Lore, Liesel (Nele Trebs), and the twins set off with their infant brother Peter to cross the forest to grandmother’s house. Their travels are a road-trip through post-war Germany. They encounter refugees by the score, Allied patrols, lonesome widows, and rough survivalists. Director Cate Shortland and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw fill the screen with texture. Shots of gestures, objects, and the gradually fading clothing immerse us in the world of the traveling children. We don’t just follow the action, we get a sense of what it’s like to actually be there.
A young man insinuates himself into their family, pretending to be an older brother, to escape an American patrol. Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina) proves to be useful. He has Jewish papers, which “the Americans love” as Lore admits. Thomas is not as intimidating as a young solo male should be, but Lore never trusts him — she can’t bring herself to trust a Jew. Still, Thomas he plays with Liesel and the twins, and he’s able to use little Peter to help get food for them all.
Sympathy for the Devil
In the film and on the road, these children suffer some hardships, and the movie does its best to make you sympathize with them. Yet even as they suffer, all around them others are suffering even worse, not to mention the millions killed in the war and the Holocaust. It’s a hard sell to make an audience sympathize with the children of privilege gained through genocide, and it requires a deft hand.
Whenever the children encounter other refugees, the sense of denial is strong. “I had to look at dead Jews to get stale bread,” one complains. Another is certain the piles of corpses in the photographs are paid actors. But Lore recognized her father in one of the pictures, so it’s harder for her to dismiss them.
Lore manages the warring emotions very well. I think my friend who hated the movie didn’t like being asked to sympathize with Nazis. On the other hand, Lore and her siblings have an interesting perspective that I haven’t seen before. What about children raised in a culture of suppression and genocide? Are they responsible for their bigotry? Can we really call them Nazis, or should we call them “children of Nazis”? Should we let ourselves feel empathy for them, or are we morally obliged to first remember their victims?