I like the way that The Jewish Daily Forward has edited my new film review, “Australia’s Oscar Entry Revisits German Past,” posted earlier today at its Arty Semite blog. The Forward has given me permission to post the following version, which provides some additional detail:

To Grandmother’s House They Go

Courtesy of Music Box Films

The movie title, “Lore,” refers to the eponymous strong-willed but idealistic teenager who tries to lead her four young siblings to safety at their grandmother’s house, through the lawless, war-ravaged landscape of a German nation totally defeated in 1945. Her physical trek triggers an inner journey of an impressionable young person on the edge of adulthood who suddenly confronts a brutal reality denied her previously by die-hard Nazi parents. We gradually see her shed the Nazi faith she grew up with, and recoil against the ugly hatefulness of the people around her.

Lore, short for Hannelore, is played by Saskia Rosendahl, a striking young actress. Her co-star is Kai Malina (as Thomas), a rising young actor in German television and movies after starring in “The White Ribbon” in 2009.

After rousing them in the night from their large comfortable home and setting incriminating files alight, their uniformed father transports the family in an army truck to a farm in the countryside, and then leaves them, ostensibly to return to the front. His crimes are basically left to the viewer’s imagination, but after Germany’s defeat becomes official, the distraught chain-smoking mother packs her bag and instructs Lore to take the family’s remaining money and jewelry to get the children to “Omi” (grandma) near Hamburg. She then dons a smart blue outfit and proceeds on foot to give herself up to the American occupation authorities.

It’s clear that the mother is a Nazi. She coldly berates her husband as a coward for having abandoned the fight. Later, upon learning of Hitler’s death, she tearfully proclaims to Lore that all is lost.

Filmmaker Cate Shortland

Answering my email inquiry as to why a mere housewife would be wanted by the Allies, the filmmaker Cate Shortland referred to “The Dark Room” by Rachel Seiffert, the novel that inspired this movie, on how children of the perpetrators of Nazi crimes reconcile themselves to this truth about their parents. Ms. Shortland explained that both of Seiffert’s Nazi grandparents were imprisoned:

It was very rare for women to be imprisoned. Rachel’s Grandmother was in the same prison as Emmy Goring and her children.

Although a German-language film, “Lore” was Australia’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Oscar honors, because of the nationality of its director (it did not make the list of finalists). Shortland indicates in the press notes her curiosity on “what it means to be the child of perpetrators.” She continues:

Australia’s relationship to its colonial history is suppressed, and having spent quite a lot of time in post-Apartheid South Africa and Germany, these questions are often in my mind. What would I have done in the midst of genocide and horror?

Yet there is a more personal connection:

my husband’s German Jewish family left Berlin in 1936. It is his family photographs in Thomas’s wallet. And it is his grandmother’s stories that also tie me to Lore, to wanting to understand this dark and painful time.

Thomas is a fellow refugee who falls in with Lore and her siblings. He acts like a deus ex machina who gets them through savage territory as they journey from Bavaria hundreds of miles to Omi’s house on Germany’s northern seacoast. There’s an element of mystery to this character: Was he really the Jewish survivor whom he claimed to be?

Shortland confirms that he was “ambiguous” and that she followed the book in drawing him this way. She felt that although he could have been a camp guard, he was more likely a non-Jewish criminal prisoner at Buchenwald.

Shortland consulted with a Holocaust scholar at the University of Sydney on how to represent Thomas. She (Dr. Avril Alba) advised the filmmaker “to leave it up to the viewer….”


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