- Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) and Thomas (Kai Malina) in Lore.
Imagine being a child in wartime. The enemy has won and they just took away your parents, leaving you - the oldest - in charge of your siblings. You set out to find relatives, but it's a long way, you have little of material value and enemy troops roam the rural landscape you've always called home. Lore is sort of like Winter's Bone, only with Nazis instead of meth makers.
Don't expect a series of thrilling close calls and big speeches. Lore is about crunchy reality. Yes, there is a showcase performance here. Saskia Rosendahl makes quite an impression as 14-year-old Lore, but like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, her performance is about substance, not flash. Her character is in a nightmare come true. She must tend to the other kids, all noisy and needy. There is no time for posturing, there's work to be done.
The drama, directed by Cate Shortland from a screenplay by Robin Mukherjee and Shortland, is mostly in German with English subtitles. The story goes like this: Hitler is dead in his bunker and the Allies are rounding up Nazis, including the kids' father (Hans-Jochen Wagner), an SS officer. Their mother, who still believes the "Final Victory" is coming (though now maybe later than sooner), angrily prepares for the trip from the family villa to the remote cabin in the Black Forest where she will then take refuge with the young ones. Then the soldiers come for her, leaving Lore to shepherd her siblings to safety.
The faces they encounter are mostly hostile. There are photos circulating of what the Nazis did to the Jews, which loyalists believe are merely staged or doctored pieces of war propaganda. Along the way Lore and her kin encounter a young man - likely a Jew! - named Thomas (Kai Malina), who helps them in a crisis situation. Clearly he can't be trusted, but Lore needs all the help she can get to safely finish the journey to the Black Forest.
Lore creates a compelling atmosphere that manages to feel realistic and otherworldly. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom) refuses to give viewers a wider worldview than that of young Lore. We see what she sees and share her disorientation and frustration.
Despite the union between Lore and Thomas, don't expect epiphanies. Nazis and Nazi sympathizers will have much to sort through in the future, but Lore, the kids and Thomas are too busy surviving to deal with any of that. Their moral issues are more immediate. Some of the actions taken by the young ones require whatever rationalization that comes close enough to fitting the miserable circumstances.
I appreciated the lack of sentimentality in Lore, even though certain moments involving the children scream for some cinematic comforting. Lore risks losing the attention of some viewers due to its deliberate pacing and refusal to tidy up situations, relationships and moral challenges. This deceptively low-key film demands that viewers do their share of the heavy lifting.