Wednesday 6 March 2013

The horror of history

(Dir. Cate Shortland)

Last week, to celebrate our new jobs, my friend and I went to the Tyneside. We saw Lore, an amazing, powerful film about a confused Germany in the summer of 1945 immediately after Hitler’s suicide. The story of a fatherless Vaterland is told through the journey of the teenage Lore, looking after her 4 brothers and sisters after their parents disappear, wanted for war crimes.
Unsurprisingly this isn’t easy viewing. As the children trek from the Schwarzwald in the southwest to Omi somewhere north of Hamburg they find all around them the destruction of a country in mind and body. Imagery is strong: in starvation they stop at an old widow’s farm where all the clothes on the washing line are dripping black dye, in remembrance of the Führer. When they try to leave, the old lady wants to keep Baby Peter – I could have sworn, so that she could eat him.
The most realistic and perhaps ground-breaking quality of the film though is the beautifully played character of Lore, a teenage Nazi. In the very first scenes she shows her disgust at anyone she considers “an other” so physically. We don’t need to see her worshipping the Führer, her physicality on screen is perfectly pitched to convey the ideology she has been brought up with. The excellent performance by Saskia Rosendahl made the family unit live and breathe. The other children are beautifully directed and it gels so naturally – quite a triumph to keep the children on screen throughout the film in such a believable way.
Something that struck me overwhelmingly about Lore was how it positioned itself in the genre of apocalypse films. I haven’t read the book it is based on, but by the nature of its medium the film calls forth allusions from such classics as 28 Days Later/Dawn of the Dead. I have no doubt this is intentional; the director Cate Shortland certainly knows exactly what she is doing. And interestingly as a non-native she still does an excellent job with the detail, whilst also bringing an outsider’s perspective to this peculiarly unbalanced post-war Germany. (My brain made a lot of comparisons with Günter Grass’s autobiography “Beim Häuten der Zwiebel”/”Peeling the onion” dealing with the same period, but not in such an effective way.) The “end of the world” feeling of the film chimes with the end of childhood innocence and the sexuality of the adolescent Lore – so much has been left behind in the Schwarzwald.
Maybe the view of Lore as a film in the zombie genre might trivialise it for some people, but I think it gives Shortland a language of horror to utilise and a set of conventions to challenge. It increased the impact of it on me. The historical reality of the film doesn’t verge into the period drama cliché (as so many UK films and TV shows now do). Somehow it almost manages instead to feel like science-fiction, except it wasn’t a nuclear disaster that caused Germany’s destruction and the Holocaust.

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