Mom and Dad are burning evidence. He’s trying to keep his S.S. uniform on straight while she’s sobbing because Der Furher is dead. Adolescence is rough on all of us, but May 1945 was a terrible time to be growing up as a Hitler Youth when the Allies came marching in.
That’s what exactly happens to young Hannalore (Lore for short, hence the title), suddenly charged with dragging her gaggle of Aryan siblings—including a newborn baby-500 kilometers through the lawless remains of immediate post-war Germany and the Black Forest to seek refuge at their grandma’s house in Hamburg.
Cate Shortland’s visceral, often remarkable second feature finds our 14-year-old protagonist—played without a trace of ingratiation by Saskia Rosendahl—on the cusp of both a moral and sexual awakening, and the movie is sly enough to suggest the two might be slightly intertwined. Shot in overly emphatic hand-held close-ups in deliberately dingy settings, Lore recalls the films of Andrea Arnold after a few too many hours in a hothouse. The weather is so shitty and damp, you might need a blanket while you’re watching, but Lore’s gaze is overheated, alive for maybe the first time.
It’s a long way over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house they go, in treacherous terrain overrun by bandits and scoundrels as a country collapses. Some much-needed help comes from a hunky, streetwise—or at least forest-wise—Jewish lad (Kai Malina), and Lore’s torn between her dutiful, inbred anti-Semitism and a more curious yearning from somewhere down below.
Lore is raw, disorienting and never bothers to tell you what it can instead show. The screenplay, based on a portion of Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room and adapted by Shortland and co-writer Robin Mukherjee, is short on dialogue and long on oppressive, fully loaded silences. The grit and squalor of the filmmaking (with exceptional work by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw) push the survivalist angle into strictly visceral territory. And as young Lore begins to comprehend the pictures from Auschwitz, a horrible guilt obscures any semblance of sunlight.
Of course, it’s all internalized. Shortland is too savvy to hammer home the questions any citizen should ask—mainly “What was done in my name during wartime?” But it’s all there in Lore, and a final sequence showcasing a handful of deliberately smashed playthings tells us all we need to know: Childhood’s over.