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LFF: A Conversation On 'Lore', Australia's foreign Oscar bid

David here with another report from the 56th BFI London Film Festival. Craig and I had a discussion about Australia’s entry for this year's Foreign film Oscar, Cate Shortland’s Lore.

David: A story about the children of Nazis struggling across a Germany occupied by Allied forces is several thousand miles away from what you’d imagine director Cate Shortland’s wheelhouse is. But Lore’s focus on the burgeoning sexuality and voyage to adulthood of a teenage girl is strikingly similar to Shortland’s debut Somersault - so much so that lead actress Saskia Rosendahl often reminded me of Abbie Cornish in her often abrupt movement and slightly displaced screen presence. That might be how I’d describe Lore itself - it never feels truly present or powerful. Instead it filters the story through meaningful objects and eerie poetic interludes, and while this is a method of storytelling I’m certainly not averse to, it didn’t work for me in this case.

Craig: I wasn't totally sold on Lore either, all things considered. I too kept recalling Somersault more often than I hoped or thought I might. Not that I disliked Somersault, I was rather fond of it; it was a bright and distinctive film. But taking into account the different subject matter in Lore, I wasn't sure such a similar visual approach - the familiar set of stylistic photographic tricks she brought to it - was necessarily the best way to go.

David: Everything hinges on the viewpoint of Lore and too often I found Rosendahl a frustratingly vague presence. Lore is the title and Lore is the character at the centre, but I was interested in the stories of her siblings too and sister Liesel’s (Nele Trebs) little outburst near the end demonstrated what the film had been ignoring for most of its length. The moral confusion of these children of Nazis - as opposed to Nazi children? - is a narrative I'd have been more absorbed by, but perhaps Shortland isn't the right person for that tale.



Craig: For all its apparent narrative complexities it was essentially a survival drama in the vein of such apocalyptic cinema offerings as The Road. (Its structure was very similar to that film/others of its ilk.) Maybe Shortland's suggestion of a 'world's end' in the narrative was intended to evoke a tone of finality of a kind, but it felt as if the film was striving to somehow be more than a straight-up survival drama – which, to my mind, it ultimately was. The post-WWII setting gives it weight, sure, but how successfully does the film bear it? The focus on hazed, half-seen natural elements shot with handheld fluidity suggested an air of prettified delicacy that seemed to conjure up Malick’s more wayward moments. The grim bits did stick in the mind, however.

David: I'd say you've hit on it there - Shortland doesn't seem to have figured out the most effective way to portray this story. You sense she's more drawn to the psychological journey of the adolescent girl, as she was with Somersault, but the latter was a tale of a girl estranged and isolated. Whereas Lore comes equipped with a troupe of siblings that she's responsible for, and sidelining them so heavily (and using them for emotional trauma in the Lore's psychological narrative) only raises more questions than it answers.

Craig: I started to wonder why there was need for so many siblings particularly as they didn't play much of a part in the story. Would a lone journey - or if Lore had just had one or two others to look after - have made for a more dramatically resonant tale? I'm not sure. But Shortland's divided focus on Lore as replacement mother vs Lore as estranged and traumatised young woman (dealing with the abandonment/absence of her own mother) didn't allow for a great deal of rewarding development regarding either line of thought.

David: Breaking it down like that really does harm the film. I never quite got a sense of the largesse of this particular journey, likely because we're so restricted to Lore's head. Vivid, bloody moments do peek through but the harshness of travelling across these difficult landscapes was shortchanged by the vignettes the narrative was broken down into.

Craig: Indeed, neither the growth nor the emotional lives of any of the other characters - including Lore's mother, Mutti, and Thomas, a Jewish drifter who they befriend on their journey - was given much attention, as Shortland seemed too intent on keeping us within the rather evasive psychological framework of Lore's immediate head-space. (The title has it, however; the sole focus on her concerns was clearly its overriding intention.) But Rosendahl  was too much of a faint presence to really invest any lasting interest in. There didn't appear to be many instances that allowed her to fully arouse emotion beyond the stated nature of her predicament. Her actions toward Thomas baffled me, not due to any curiosity to be found in them, but because the logic behind them didn't entirely add up. Perhaps they weren't meant to, but it made for some dreary drama as the film progressed.

Saskia Rosendahl in 'Lore'David: We seem to have circled back to the beginning of our conversation here, which probably backs up your feeling that we might run out of things to say. But surely that in itself is an indictment of the film itself. There are a few moments of the film that mark themselves onto the memory (the encounter with the man at the lakeside being one of them, although the actual choreography and repercussions of that scene baffle me), but for the most part the film is far too lucid and vague. And moreover I felt like it wanted to make points about war and national identity that just don't register properly.

Craig: Since seeing it I've read a fair few sound appraisals of it, and there are indeed scenes and moments that stand out. But I didn't fully take away the same things from it as some others did, sadly. The lake encounter was one of the most interesting moments, but its resolution was indistinct. It was a queasy and intriguing part of the film, but it seemed to fritter away any potential to actually develop Lore as a character. (Was it an easy option to make Thomas the, er, eventual protagonist of that situation?... I'm trying to keep the plot elements of this scene as spoiler-free as possible.) Maybe Shortland was after some deeper resonance, not immediately accessible, but something that she intended to linger in the mind after.

David: I think you're right that this is because the film isn't interested in any of the other characters - leaving Thomas' ending a frankly shruggable development. But even Lore's own story was carried off in alternately vague and blunt ways - the fawn ornament! As soon as it appeared, I practically put my head in my hands. The visual poetry of the burning embers to begin the story, seeing her parents' intimacy through a door left ajar - Shortland seemed to default to the obvious imagery of this type of story far too easily. I think the ultimate problem I had is that nothing about this film ever felt like its own thing.

Craig: Some parts of it have stayed with me: Thomas' intervention in the road block, the imagery of abandoned houses and Lore’s mother (Ursina Lardi, impressive) walking away from the family through a forest path were all moments which inspired emotional investment. Maybe I should just be content with taking away these elusive fragments in a film which didn't entirely cohere for me? But, indeed, I'm with you on the import placed on the ornament; it aroused unfortunate thoughts of, oddly enough, Bambi, which didn't really do it too many favours. Still, Shortland is a talent with proper style, so I'll be intrigued to see what's next from her regardless.

David: Indeed. Let’s hope it doesn’t take her eight years this time. Stylistic comparisons to Malick are more than enough!

Craig: C- / David: C

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Reader Comments (2)

Ouch! I loved it. Ah well.

Still, now that it's over, far and away the best LFF film I saw was "No", which I hope has a chance for Oscar nomination, at least.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmes

I didn't write anything on 'No' as Nat covered it from NYFF, but I absolutely agree that it was the best at the LFF (along with Wadjda). Seems to be getting praise from everywhere and it's genuinely fun and entertaining along with politically dramatic so I'd certainly bet on it for a nom.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
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