Review by Nathan Samdahl (B-)
The beginning of each year is usually littered with the releases of foreign films selected for submission to the Academy Awards but that didn't make the final cut. These entries typically have merit, but it is easy to see why they didn't garner a coveted Oscar nomination. The Australian drama Lore falls into this group, a beautifully shot film with powerful performances but a story that lacks the emotional resonance to elevate it to the next level.
Director Cate Shortland clearly has vision and will be a director to watch for many years to come. While watching Lore, her style reminded me of Lynn Ramsey or Andrea Arnold, whose films feel uniquely personal and despite the grittiness and realism of the worlds they portray, remain mesmerizing throughout (check out Ratcatcher or Fish Tank). Shortland seems to fit right into this mold, portraying a rarely seen slice-of-life perspective from that of Nazi children dealing with the aftermath of WWII, where both their parents have instantly become criminals. With nowhere else to go, the kids, led by their eldest sister Lore, embark on a dangerous journey to their grandmother's home 900 kilometers away.
Shortland starts out strong with a believable and nuanced look into the workings of a Nazi household at the end of the war. But after the father is arrested and the mother decides to turn herself in, the film begins to struggle as the kids must fend for themselves. In many ways it felt like the long forest sequence from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow: Part 1, where, just like Harry, Hermione and Ron, the story meanders aimlessly and could easily be half as long without losing any substance.
Part of the problem is the lack of context for the kids' journey. Throughout, the children are concerned about being discovered as Nazi children. Their union with a Jewish man leads to tension, but the consequences for the children if their true background is revealed remains unclear. Will they be sent to a camp? Killed on the spot? Something else? Unlike a film like Europa Europa, where the lead character knows he will be killed if he is revealed as a Jew, Lore lacks this sense of danger and strife.
The importance of getting to their grandmother's is also not well defined. If they end up in a refugee camp instead, would their lives be in danger?
Lore needed tighter editing, too. It has a clear vision, but that vision is muddled by a lot of extraneous footage. For instance, the kids encounter many dead bodies along the way. I get the need to show the first body in gory detail to highlight the effect this would have on the children. But it seems like the editing for each scene where they come across a body includes a lingering shot of a gruesomely deformed or bloody face. WWII was horrific - history, direct testimony and hundreds of WWII films have already cemented that fact. Filmmakers should use that girth of previous material to their advantage to focus on story and not feel the need to spend unneeded minutes driving home that WWII was violent. I'm not saying to pull punches with violence like War Horse did to the detriment of the film. But showing every body in full detail quickly becomes repetitive.
Trimming down moments like this and highlighting why the children are making this journey would help the film dramatically. Lead Saskia Rosendahl delivers a great performance, but again it is unclear why I should care about her or her siblings. With slice-of-life pieces you expect imperfect characters, but with Nazi children as your protagonists, you really need a reason to get invested in their plight.
Lore feels like a product of a filmmaker who is one film, one great story, away from breaking out in a big way. It is worth watching for the incredible cinematography from DP Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom), but sadly Lore is not a must-see for this year.
The film is now playing at Laemmle's Royal in West L.A., Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino and Edwards Westpark 8 in Irvine.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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