Did I adore ‘Lore’ (2013), or did I snore?

24 Mar

Lore posterA long-understood formula for success has been to throw likeable, innocent or unassuming characters into the nightmare that was WWII. In doing so, the horrors of that particular era are juxtaposed with the positiveness of the protagonists in order to emphasise both the virtue of the latter and the hellishness of the former. Films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist are testament to this established theory, but aside from the odd exception like Grave of the Fireflies or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, very few movies focus on the lives of children in these situations. Lore is a welcome addition to this under-represented subgenre of WWII-themed cinema.

An Australian-made German-language film, the first major twist is almost instantaneous… Turns out Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is actually a person! A German girl in her late teens to be exact, and she along with her younger sister, twin brothers and baby bro Peter travel with their parents to a remote farmhouse in the middle of the Black Forest (though not before suspiciously grabbing all of the silverware and burning lots of be-Swastika’d paperwork). However, both parents eventually vacate, and the kids must travel across the German countryside in order to reach the great city of Hamburg. The journey involves hostile locals, bugs, hairbrushes and many puddles of mud.

While their quest is fraught with dangers, it starts to get boring very fast, mainly due to the lack of anything happening on screen. While the kids, lacking any adult supervision in war-time rural Germany, are undoubtedly in danger, you really feel a noticeable lack of tension. Their very situation should leave viewers on edge but the only occasion where any sort of mutual anxiety is felt is during scenes where their lives are in direct danger. Had the film featured background sounds of explosions or gunfire in the distance (which would be perfectly plausible, given the context) the film would be an infinitely more enthralling experience.

This is a film which relies heavily on dialogue and character development rather than action or storytelling. That said, unfortunately the kids in this film have paper-thin personalities which really makes it tough to invest virtually any degree of empathy or solidarity for their predicament. Here’s how they breakdown: Lore, the eldest girl, is a semi-resourceful but ultimately quite cranky young adult with the oddest seduction tactics I’ve ever seen. The next oldest (12-ish?) girl is better with baby Peter but even more unlikeable from a personality perspective. Of the twin boys, all we know is that one is a trouble-maker. They are wholly two-dimensional and lack practically any depth whatsoever.

The costume design and makeup is all top-notch, but the characters themselves are lacking.

The costume design and makeup is all top-notch, but the characters themselves are lacking.

A big problem with Lore is that the story is both meandering and consistently unclear. At more than one instance I was left figuratively scratching my head, wondering “how exactly did they get there?”. Other than the obvious “they walked”, it’s never clearly explained how they got from point A to point B. About a third of the way in, they reach a bombarded former city, which I initially thought was Hamburg (their ultimate destination). However, within ten minutes they were back on the road again! I was confused for a significant portion of this film.

This may sound like I hated this movie, but I would like to make something clear: Lore is well worth seeing. The cinematography is stunning, with beautiful locations and very convincing makeup. There is one scene by a lake, where one character is hanging upside down from a tree, and the camera is shot through their eyes. Gazing at a friend in the water, whose head is poking out so as to be equal with their reflection, the mirroring of the faces in the water from an inverted perspective is wonderful. The acting is convincing (the chain-smoking mother (Ursina Lardi) is the pick of the bunch), even if none of the characters are friendly, and the emotional payoff at the end has its intended punch. A tentative recommendation.

Simon says: not explosive, but not a bomb either.

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