When a movie set in Germany during World War II opens with a family frantically packing up their belongings and fleeing in the middle of the night, it’s usually about Jews attempting to hide from the Nazis. Cate Shortland’s Lore flips those expectations, however; the family desperately trying to avoid capture isn’t Jewish, but rather Nazis hoping to avoid Allied capture after the fall of the Third Reich. Shortland doesn’t ask the audience to excuse people who’ve done horrible things, but she does show sympathy for the human beings behind even the worst atrocities.
The movie isn’t about the Nazis themselves, but the people they drag along with them. The title character (Saskia Rosendahl) is a teenage girl whose parents are taken into custody for their role in the regime, and who has been taught Nazi ideals for most of her young life. Left to care for her four younger siblings, including an infant brother, Lore has to make her way across Germany’s treacherous postwar landscape to get to the relative safety of her grandmother’s house in Hamburg.
Shortland tells Lore’s story in a haunting, almost impressionistic style, owing as much to Terrence Malick as she does to traditions of Holocaust and World War II cinema. Lore’s journey often resembles a post-apocalyptic quest, as she encounters abandoned, decrepit buildings and has to negotiate for food and shelter with whatever meager resources she has on hand. About halfway through the movie, she encounters a Jewish teen named Thomas (Kai Malina), who offers help and comfort to Lore and her siblings, but the movie doesn’t turn into a parable about reconciliation between Jews and Nazis. Lore vacillates between revulsion and fascination in her relationship to Thomas, unable to overcome what she’s been taught but also instinctively drawn to the one compassionate (if pragmatic) person she finds in her travels.
Shortland’s sometimes obtuse approach to storytelling means that certain plot points are a little unclear, and the movie gets a bit repetitive toward the end. But for the most part it’s a moving, heartbreaking tale, anchored by a wonderful performance from newcomer Rosendahl. It’s understandable to assume that we’ve seen everything when it comes to movies about these events and this time period, but Lore proves that there is always room for another story if it can be presented in an original and unexpected fashion.