“Lore” at the AFI – Holocaust Film from Another Perspective (4 cents)

It is always interesting to see a World War II, or Holocaust, film (or to read a book) which gives you an additional perspective on that tragic period of time. For example, Hans Keilson, writing a brief novel about a Jew hiding during World War II in Amsterdam, told from the perspective of the couple that was hiding him, which I read some time over the past year.

“Lore”, a new film, made as a German/Australian/UK cooperative venture, tells the story of a young, teenage German girl and her four younger siblings, abandoned by their parents as World War II draws to a close, and forced to find their way from the south of Germany, in the Black Forest, to the far north, near Hamburg, where their grandmother lives.

It’s a brutal situation, and a brutal film. Their father, a high ranking Nazi officer, was rarely home, is on a list to be arrested as a war criminal in connection with the murder of Jews. He returns to their comfortable house, which they must abandon, but not before destroying anything incriminating, including documents about the murder of “genetically-deficient” parents and children. The father, a coarse man, goes into hiding; the rest of the family, Lore, her 12 year old sister, the 7 or 8 year old twins, and a nursing baby, go into hiding with their mother in a remote, ramshackle farm house, a big step down from their previous life.

The kids are kids, but the mother is an emotional mess. For inexplicable reasons, she decides that she has to abandon her children and find their father. Perhaps, she is simply mentally distraught, perhaps she is afraid that she too is a target for arrest and that her children will suffer for that. It’s not clear. But she leaves, instructing Lore to get to the train station with her brothers and sisters, to take the train to Hamburg, to take another train to the town of (I think) Hollem, and then to walk “across the mud” to their omi’s house. How she thought this could be accomplished with a nursing baby is again unclear, but she seems to be in no shape to think rationally.

The movie shows the journey of Lore and her siblings across a beautiful, but ruined, Germany, where the trains are not running, no one has sufficient food, everyone is suspicious, dead bodies are found in unexpected places, occupying forces are moving in, and confusion reigns supreme. They are befriended by another wanderer, a young man. Lore is very much afraid of, yet drawn to, him, but he is helpful in many ways. For one thing, they have no papers, and he does – his papers show him to be a Jew, and his arm shows him to have been incarcerated at Auschwitz.

Lore was brought up in the Third Reich, as the daughter of high ranking Nazis. To her, the Fuhrer is a God (perhaps The God), and Jews are evil, dangerous, and subhuman. On her journey, she has now, perhaps for the first time, met a Jew. At a food bank, she for the first time sees pictures of murdered Jews, of Jews in concentration camps. “Lore” is a coming of age story – but only a story of young romance and sexual awakening – it is a story of a young girl who learns that everything she has been told and everything her parents have taught was wrong.

There is no happy ending to the film. There is no ending at all. They do get to their goal. Their grandmother’s home has remained relatively unscathed. She is going to take care of her grandchildren. But Lore’s journey has not ended. She has a lot left to process and to think about. Where she will eventually go is up for grabs.

The film is based on one of the three novellas in Rachel Seiffert’s “The Dark Night”.

Would I recommend the film? Yes, but you have to be ready for a very depressing, if cinematically beautiful, hour and a half. And you have to overlook some incredulity – how they could make this lengthy journey with little Peter, how their clothes stayed in one piece throughout the journey and how long it took for their faces to get dirty, how the former Auschwitz survivor was nowhere near emaciated. We saw it at the American Film Institute, where it was part of a European film festival. Whether it is being released generally to theaters, I don’t know.

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