An unusual, constantly surprising post-WWII odyssey, this film may feel a bit thin and episodic, but it tells an evocative story with darkly moving emotion. Like her ravishingly disturbing 2004 feature debut Somersault, Australian director Shortland brings her considerable skills to a strikingly different genre, keeping the story finely focussed on the central character while reflecting the complexity of a perilous situation.
The story begins right after the fall of Hitler, as a family destroys everything that ties them to the Nazis. But officials come for the parents (Wagner and Lardi), leaving teenaged Lore (Rosendahl) in charge of her four young siblings (Trebs, Frid, Seidel and infant Holaschke). Their only option is to try to reach their grandmother (Hagen) near Hamburg, but they get no help from their neighbours because of the family's ties to the Fuhrer. And as they strike out on the road, they encounter horrific things they could never have imagined. They also meet Thomas (Malina), a young Jewish man who seems to be following them.
The film is structured in a series of encounters as Lore struggles to keep her siblings together. And we are repulsed along with her at what she learns about humanity along the way. Shortland and the fine young actress Rosendahl vividly portray Lore's intense emotion as her protected, pampered childhood takes such a sudden, shocking turn. And we can vividly see along with her that much of the menace comes from the men along the road. But in her mind, the Jews are even more dangerous, so since she has been conditioned to despise them, her interaction with Thomas is thoroughly intriguing. She doesn't want to be anywhere near him, but knows she needs him to survive.
Shortland directs this with a lovely attention to detail, coaxing her cast to beautifully understated performances that reveal everything we need to know through subtext. As a result, we are thrown into each grim scene, even though the photography is often artful and sensuous. In a way, this helps capture the strange presence of hopefulness in a time of utter despair. And in the end, there's the sense that the film is, at its core, a kind of extreme coming-of-age film, as Lore will certainly never see the world the same again.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 20th September 2012
Box Office USA: $1.0M
Distributed by: Music Box Films
Production compaines: Edge City Films, Porchlight Films, Rohfilm
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 102 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Cate Shortland
Producer: Benny Drechsel, Karsten Stoter, Liz Watts, Paul Welsh
Screenwriter: Cate Shortland, Robin Mukherjee
Starring: Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, Kai-Peter Malina as Thomas (as Kai Malina), Nele Trebs as Liesel, Ursina Lardi as Mutti, Hans-Jochen Wagner as Vati, André Frid as Günther, Mika Seidel as Jürgen, Eva-Maria Hagen as Omi, Katrin Pollitt as Bäuerin, Philip Wiegratz as Helmut, Sven Pippig as Bauer, Friederike Frerichs as Widow, Hendrik Arnst as Mann vom Ochsenwagen, Claudia Geisler as Frau vom Ochsenwagen, Antonia Cäcilia Holfelder as Maid
Also starring: Cate Shortland
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