Life after Hitler


How does a German teenager, the daughter of a Nazi officer, face up to the fall of the Third Reich, and the revelation of the regime's true nature? Just as pertinently, how does an Australian filmmaker of Jewish heritage go about probing the immense moral conundrum facing such a protagonist, herself an unformed innocent?

'The moral questions weren't answered in 1945,' said Cate Shortland, writer-director of Lore, when I spoke to her after a recent press screening ahead of the film's release this week. 'The country was in shock and denial — it was a real shutdown. Also they were just trying to survive.'

Survival is certainly on the mind the title character, played by newcomer Saskia Rosendahl. Her mother and father have been apprehended, leaving her to guide her four siblings, including her infant brother, on a sometimes gruesome cross-country trek, in search of a perceived safe haven at their grandmother's house.

It is a coming-of-age story for Lore, in the truest sense of the phrase; a journey from innocence to maturity via hard experience. Her journey mirrors that of her country, which as the film begins is yet to shake off its illusions about Hitler, and has only just begun to face up to the horrors of the Holocaust.

'People lost faith in National Socialism not because they suddenly stopped being anti-Semitic, but because they were being badly bombed and losing so many soldiers,' says Shortland. 'In December-January they lost 800,000 civilians and soldiers. When our films starts the whole country is in a state of shock.'

Lore is based on Rachel Seiffert's 2001 Booker shortlisted novel The Dark Room — actually a collection of three novellas, which are set before and during the war, immediately after it, and in modern times respectively. 'It's about how German's have dealt with National Socialism, but it's really intimate,' says Shortland.

Shortland and her producers selected the second novella, set in 1945, for adaptation 'because it's far more difficult terrain, trying to deal with what it means to be the child of a perpetrator, what it means to be indoctrinated, what it means when your whole country has lied'.

'I went to Berlin and did workshops with people who had been in the Hitler Youth and German Girls League, the fascist children's organisations. It wasn't like the war ended, Hitler committed suicide and everybody stopped loving him. One man told me he was really traumatised because he loved Hitler more than his own family.'

Shortland was intrigued by the broader issues raised by Lore's predicament. 'I was fascinated by the idea that how a regime falls tells us so much about how that regime was structured. This one was structured with fear and hatred, and that's what happened when it fell too.'

But she was also interested in the intimacy of the story. 'The book is made up of details: the veins of their skin, their eyelashes, the reflection in a spoon.' Shortland's film similarly appeals to intimate details and, notably, to tactility: fingers brush water, catch a drip of dye, touch tacky glue, fondle ceramic shards.

We sympathise with Lore, though the tendrils of indoctrination still grip her. On the road she encounters Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), a Jewish boy who protects the five young siblings, while stirring sexual feelings in Lore herself. She is never quite able to trust him fully though, as she is unable to see past his Jewishness.

'Saskia looked at her character without judgment,' Shortland says of her young lead. 'Her mother was brought up in the totalitarian regime, so we could speak really frankly about all of the issues, but basically she was playing a young girl. That commitment not to judge, to play things really truthfully, was brave.'

The same may be said of Shortland, who has composed a lyrical and honest Holocaust film that manages to be full both of visual and moral horrors, as well as much grace and beauty. The fact that the film was shot on location in beautiful places where horrors occurred, means it is pregnant with these qualities.

'Steven Spielberg said that when he was making Schindler's List it was like shooting in a cemetery. Two houses we shot in were taken off Jewish families in the 1930s. One of our locations was a slave labour camp. You take five steps and you're on the scene of some atrocity. That imbued the film and how I thought about it.'

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Cate Shortland, World War II, Holocaust, Hitler



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Existing comments

Nazi empire was built on same principles advocated by society today [euthanasia, insane medical experiments[pace mengele], desregard for life of elderly["useless eaters"],economic rationalism[beds of incurable needed for wounded],total disregard for gods decalogue],Aryan promiscuity with Aryan nurseries for Aryan babies] etc

Father John Michael George | 20 September 2012  

....and Hitlers anti-semitism Catholic not so long ago background.
We still have clerical Holocaust deniers still in our midst, albeit now more covert.

L Newington | 22 September 2012  

L.Newington your attack on RCC is implausible vis a vis influence of Hitlers Catholic background of antisemitism. As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: “For the Jew was still characterized for me by nothing but his religion, and therefore, on grounds of human tolerance, I maintained my rejection of religious attacks in this case as in others. Consequently, the tone, particularly that of the Viennese anti-Semitic press, seemed to me unworthy of the cultural tradition of a great nation”.

Father John Michael George | 23 September 2012  

Rubbish! It is only in recent times the attitude in relation to anti-semitism has taken a turn for the best, thanks to John X111, even then he was up against many in the Holy See. I never knew of the word anti-semitism until I became a Catholic, including church attitude towards Masons. St's Jerome and Augustine are well docummented and works still referenced as Doctors of the Church and you would be well versed on them as a priest of your generation. I don't stand to be corrected on this, so any further responses from me won't be forthcoming.

L Newington | 24 September 2012  

Oh, gentlemen, are we losing the plot? It's obvious that the slaughter of 6 million Jews was the lowest point in history - arguably the culmination of a long history of Christian ant-Semitic tradition - and where Christian "tradition" deviated in the most diabolical way from religious/spiritual values of Christianity.

AURELIUS | 24 September 2012  

Aurelius the Holocaust was caused by rejection of Christianity by Nazism, especially 5th commandment

Father John Michael George | 24 September 2012  

But Jews, like witches, heretics and homosexuals, were beyond God's saving grace and therefore destined for hell and so were expendable.

AURELIUS | 25 September 2012  

Aurelius please! that Aryan Soteriology derives from grim Calvinism not traditional Catholic Devotion to the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus.

Father John Michael George | 25 September 2012  

Oh yes, sacred heart is a very useful devotion - because it voids Jesus of hands to do anything, and a mind to rationalise - just sit helplessly and weep. And I can't see where the issue of mercy comes in - it's not the victims in need of mercy (ie Jews, homosexuals, and so-called heretics) but the perpetrators and collaborators by their silence.

AURELIUS | 26 September 2012  

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