Lore Review

The Digital Fix has three copies of 'Lore' and one copy of Rachel Seiffert's source novel to giveaway before June 3rd. For your chance to win simply click the link. Best of luck!

If you look at the list of Best Film winners of what were the Australian Film Institute Awards up to 2010 and the AACTA Awards since then, it's very noticeable that it is dominated by first features. Indeed, if we go back fifteen years to 1998's The Interview, from that film onwards eleven are big-screen feature directing debuts, five of which were by women. That said, it doesn't appear to have been easy to follow those first features up. Kate Woods (Looking for Alibrandi, 2000) and Elissa Down (The Black Balloon, 2008) have yet to do so, their only credits since being for television. Sue Brooks followed Japanese Story (2003) six years later with Subdivision, which didn't set the world alight (and is unseen by me). Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways, 2005) did make a second feature, My Year Without Sex (2009) but sadly died of cancer in 2011 at the age of fifty-three. Cate Shortland's Somersault swept the awards in 2004 and it's been a long time for her to direct another feature. Eight years in fact, during which her only credits have been a TV movie, The Silence (2006) and a script credit for one episode of 2011's excellent miniseries adapted from Christos Tsiolkas's novel The Slap.

Lore begins in May 1945, with the Führer dead and Germany in disarray. Hannelore Dreiser, known as Lore, pronounced similarly to “Laura” (Saskia Rosendahl), is the oldest of five siblings. We see the action through her eyes, and at first she is not sure what is happening, why her father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) is burning his files and her mother (Ursina Landi) is desperately packing for a journey far away from their Black Forest home. Lore has to lead her sister Liesel (Nele Trebs) and brothers, twins Günther (André Frid) and Jürgen (Mika Seidel) and baby Peter (Nick Holaschke), nearly five hundred miles to safety, at their Oma's (grandmother's) home in Hamburg. Along the way, they are helped by a young Jewish boy (Kai Malina), as they travel through a country in fear for their lives, and Lore has to come to terms with the fact that her parents were not the good people she believed them to be.

Rachel Seiffert's novel The Dark Room was published in 2001 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It comprises three novellas, set before, during and (in the last one) fifty years after the War, the stories of three ordinary Germans and the effects the events of history have on them, an examination of German wartime guilt. Lore is based on the middle novella, which has the same title. Seiffert tells her stories in third person present tense, sticking to Lore's viewpoint but seeing from outside as well – a very cinematic method which explains how the story translates so well to film. The screenplay by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee (the latter's first big-screen credit after much work for television) is largely faithful to the original, although Lore (twelve in the novella) is aged up a little, as Saskia Rosendahl was seventeen at the time of filming. This does allow Shortland to develop some hints of attraction in Lore towards Thomas, despite his being someone, a Jew, she has been taught to despise.

The film's DP Adam Arkapaw shot Lore in Super 16mm (as he also did in Snowtown), often handheld. The result is anything other than slick and glossy, and the grainy, colour-muted result has considerable force and momentum, without an ounce of sentimentality. You certainly believe in it. The film's dialogue being in German rather than English was clearly the right decision. Shortland and Arkapaw steadily mute the colours as Lore and her siblings: often the only vivid shade is blue, of Lore's eyes and the dress she wears near the end.
Lore was Australia's official entry for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, though it did not make the final shortlist. It was nominated for eight AACTA Awards, but won just Best Young Actor for Saskia Rosendahl, the big winner at the 2013 ceremony being The Sapphires, as it happens a debut feature.

The Blu-ray

Lore is released by Artificial Eye on a BD50 disc, and affiiliate links above refer to this edition. There is also a DVD release (not supplied for review: affiliate links here. The Blu-ray begins with the same ad for Curzon Home Cinema that is on all the recent Artificial Eye releases I've seen.

In the rush to embrace digital-capture as an alternative, indeed a supplanting of, 35mm, Lore shows that there is life in Super 16mm still. The transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1. This is a very grainy film, but the grain is quite intentional, as is the faded colour scheme of much of it. Needless to say, some longer shots don't look anywhere near as sharp as they would in 35mm (or indeed HD digital) and shadow detail isn't always great. But this is how the film looked when I saw it in the cinema, three months before this writing (in a 2K DCP showing, incidentally) and what I describe are not deficiencies but features.

The soundtrack comes in two varieties, DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM Surround (2.0). This isn't the most showy of sound mixes, but it's an intelligent one, using the surrounds mostly for ambience and for Max Richter's music score, which is kept back for the moments when it counts. This is a German-language film and optional English subtitles are provided. They don't translate a few lines of English, almost all of it coming from American and English soldiers in a couple of scenes. The LPCM track is mixed a little lower than the DTS-HD.

The extras begin with an interview with Cate Shortland (13:31), in standard EPK format with on-screen text questions with video of her answers. This isn't especially indepth, as the interview is topped and tailed with footage from the trailer, but it's clear that this was a very personal project for Shortland, a Jewish convert. Her husband's (Tony Krawitz, director of Dead Europe) family were German Jews, and her grandmother-in-law, now in her nineties, was a particular inspiration and research source for Lore. Shortland also made use of the extensive research that Rachel Seiffert had made for her novel, in providing backstories for Lore's mother and father, and the crimes they committed – information which is not in the film itself. She also discusses the making of the film in the German language, despite some resistance from financiers: not just for verisimilitude but because many of the actors, especially the adults, came from the former East Germany and their English was limited.

This does overlap with a making-of documentary (16:03), which comprises a different interview with Shortland (at a press conference), a brief clip of her visiting her German grandmother-in-law and on-location and casting-session footage. Saskia Rosendahl, was a trained dancer who had not acted before and she is also interviewed, speaking in fine accented English. She was chosen from three hundred applicants, despite Shortland's initial concerns that she was too good looking for the role.

The extras conclude with the theatrical trailer (2:17).

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