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TIFF: "Lore", Australia's Formidable Oscar Contender

Toronto International Film Festival. Glenn is in Australia but he's seen Monday's premiere "Lore".

Australia isn’t a regular player in the Academy’s annual game of Best Foreign Language Film. We’ve only submitted five films prior to 2012: Clara Law’s Floating Life (1996), which I have never seen; Steve Jacobs’ La Spagnola (2001), which is fun, if slight, immigrant comedy; Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes (2006) a fabulous film that was the first ever filmed in native Aboriginal dialects; Tony Ayres’ The Home Song Stories (2007), which features an incredible performance by Joan Chen; and Samson & Delilah (2009), Warwick Thornton’s groundbreaking indigenous drama about two teens escaping their remote lives only to stumble upon tragedy at every turn. Thornton’s film was the closest Australia has ever come to snagging a nomination, having managed to find a spot on the nine-wide shortlist. As great as that film was, however, its hard-edged take on the plight of our country’s most troubled citizens was always going to be a tough ask for a nomination.

Much easier, I suspect, will be Cate Shortland’s Lore, which seemingly comes to us with the Oscar-nominee stamp blazoned across it. Transmission Films, the film's distributor in Australia, has officially announced that Lore will represent Australia in the Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards. With a story involving an epic journey (!), children (!!), and WWII (!!!), it has to be considered a strong contender for the shortlist on nomination morning.

Shortland hasn't made a theatrical feature since she broke through in 2004 with Somersault, which helped launch Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington. Her latest is a finely crafted, delicate WWII drama about five children who must make their way across a divided Germany in the final days of the war after their Nazi parents are taken away. It receives a local release in two weeks time, but I saw it a couple of weeks back and was utterly captivated. It’s the best Australian film of the year (so far) for sure, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with our nation’s identity. Shortland’s knack for navigating tricky territory (a young girl’s burgeoning sexuality in Somersault, a traumatised police officer in TV movie The Silence) is at her finest here, exploring the crumbling world of these children whose affluent life is rapidly disintegrating upon the news of Hitler’s death. The final scenes are particularly pertinent as it begins to dawn on the kids – and the audience – that their lives will never be the same. They will always be Nazi children who spent their childhood in the shadow of Hitler’s rhetoric.

Wonderfully acted (especially by newcomer Saskia Rosendahl as the eldest sibling, Hannelore), expertly filmed by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom, Snowtown), sublimely edited by Veronika Jenet (Oscar nominated for The Piano), and featuring an original score by Max Richter (Waltz with Bashir, Sarah’s Key) that is so far above and beyond the best of the year, I have no doubt you will be hearing about Lore over the next year. It’s an official Australian/German co-production with many Aussies behind the scenes, so it remains to be seen whether the Academy’s voters see it as “not Australian enough”, but it is a powerful film that would make a worthy nominee.

Its American distributor, Music Box Films, has no set date for a US release yet, but distribution could give it a bit of extra marketing muscle come awards season. Lore screened in competition at the Sydney Film Festival, won the major audience award at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, and has its North American premiere tomorrow at TIFF.

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Reader Comments (2)

This sounds wonderful. I try to keep a lookout for strong Australian films (even if they aren't about, er, Australians), and this sounds like something I would really like. Then again, I'll usually check out anything where Max Richter contributes music.

September 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjbaker475

Thanks for the shoutout to my country's burgeoning film industry, but I must lament the use of the term 'dialect' to refer to Australian Aboriginal languages, generally this usage is considered pejorative, placing Australian Aboriginal languages on a different status as compared with familiar European languages, an unjustified stance considering the expressiveness and complexity of these languages. Ten Canoes was written and performed in Yolngu Matha, a language not a dialect.

October 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames

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