Lore follows German children’s grim journey

After Adolf Hitler’s suicide, as the Third Reich falls, five German children are left on their own.

Their Nazi parents are arrested by the victorious Allies. But before their mother is imprisoned, she instructs her eldest daughter, 14-year-old Hannelore Dressler, to leave Bavaria with her siblings and go north, where their grandmother lives. The Allies, her mother warns, kill all German children.

Lore, the movie’s title character, is thrust into a strange and treacherous new world. A child herself, she’s been charged with leading her younger sister, twin brothers and baby brother through a surreal landscape devastated by war.

The trudge through the Black Forest is no Sunday stroll. It’s more horror movie come to life, a bad dream populated by the mad and the dead. The ruins of the rural homes the children stumble upon are both a refuge for the abandoned siblings and a reminder of lives lost and broken.

German actress Saskia Rosendahl plays Lore. It’s a demanding role, one that teaches its leading character hard lessons, giving her heart no quarter. Is everything she’s been told her entire life a lie? Is her own father, sanctioned by the evil state though he was, a criminal who committed heinous acts on a massive scale?

Lore has a lot on her otherwise, suddenly empty plate. Amidst the Holocaust deniers she and her siblings encounter as they travel, and in contrast to Lore’s younger sister’s and brothers’ inability to grasp the scope of the Nazi-committed horrors, Rosendahl’s impressionable Lore is this grim story’s evolving conscience.

The Dressler children, tainted by their Nazi parents, find no kindness in the rural area their parents fled to after the Reich fell. They have no choice but to go to their grandmother’s house.

Lore, her sister, Liesel (Nele Trebs), brothers Günther (André Frid) and Jürgen (Mika Seidel) and little Peter (Nick Holaschke) find a traveling companion in an enigmatic young man named Thomas (Kai Malina). Or, more accurately, the persistent Thomas appoints himself to be the children’s companion and protector.

Lore sends Thomas mixed messages. Noticing that his papers say he’s a Jew, her learned behavior dictates that she despise him.

“I know who you are,” she accuses Thomas. “You’re a Jew.”

But the Dressler children need the food Thomas manages to provide for them. When Lore finds herself sexually attracted to Thomas, things get more complicated.

Max Richter’s dark, neo-classical musical score accompanies the children’s march north. Their journey is occasionally interrupted by bursts of violence. In this land of madness and denial, Rosendahl as Lore gets to play her own, very effective mad scene.

A joint Australian, German and British production, Lore is based on Rachel Seiffert’s novel, The Dark Room. Australian director Cate Shortland helmed the German-language film with English subtitles during the summer of 2011 at German locations in Gorlitz, Baden-Wurttemberg and the Hessen and Schleswig-Holstein regions.