Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cate Shortland on Lore, a Masterful Alternate Look at Post-WWII Germany

A scene from Lore. Courtesy TIFF.
Australian director Cate Shortland’s mesmerizing film Lore follows four Nazi children whose parents have been taken away at the end of WWII. They are forced to fend for themselves while on the run to their grandmother’s house hundreds of kilometres away, and they’re starving. Soon it becomes clear that they are personas non grata in their homeland. Ostracized by fellow Germans and sought by Allied forces as the children of war criminals, they carry on to an uncertain fate. Despite the horrors they witness, they can’t quite let go of the past.
We spoke with Shortland about Lore. Read our Q&A below.
Lore is uniquely interesting, about displaced Nazi children after the fall of the Third Reich. Why this subject?
Cate Shortland: Because I lived in South Africa post-Apartheid and my husband’s family are German Jews and they became part of the Apartheid society and became perpetrators after being victims. That was really interesting to me. Also I’m white Australian and we’ve committed so many colonial atrocities and we never acknowledge them. In terms of perpetrators and being descendants of perpetrators, I was really interested in what that means… the legacy of how you live your life living in a society with this huge weight. Young Germans still feel it. It’s still a touchy subject.
Did you feel you had to wear kid gloves?
CS: I thought we have to treat the perpetrators and the children of perpetrators in the same way we would anybody else and that’s the only way. I don’t think I actively asked for sympathy for them, but I just wanted it to be truthful. The situation of young children in any war trying to survive is incredibly traumatic and difficult. The child soldiers, I read a lot about them because they were so indoctrinated. I did a lot of research.
The children in Lore had no idea what their future would be if they survived.
CS: They didn’t even know what their country was anymore. Also, it wasn’t as though the war ended and National Socialism or Nazis stopped. There’s a scene where she does a “Heil Hitler” salute to the farmer. His son had a club foot so you know he wouldn’t ever have been accepted under Hitler, he would have been ostracized.
The film will create sympathy where there hasn’t been much before.
CS: I’m reading a book by an Israeli psychologist who went to Germany and did interviews with the children of perpetrators. The whole book is just transcribed interviews and it doesn’t comment or edit. It was completely eye-opening. One woman says her father wasn’t convicted until 1962 and until 1962 she was thinking her father was a hero. And then she came home from a date and policemen were taking her father away because he’d committed mass murder. She was in college by this stage and what tore her apart was that her father never once spoke about the victims. It was always “Look what the system has done to me”. She went to the prison after he died and she spoke to the chaplain saying “Please, did my father ever talk about the victims?” and they had to say no to her. She spent her whole life trying to find some humanity and she didn’t find it. It blew me away.
Back to Lore, you had to travel halfway around the world to make it.
CS: I was passionate about it. As soon as I read the book, Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room, I was interested. I was attached to other projects, but this was the one that I stayed with and was really excited about and terrified of.
Saskia Rosendahl, who plays the eldest child, Lore, had no experience in films and she’s the lead. What did you see in her?
CS: I had such a visceral reaction to Saskia on the last day of casting. She was one of the last eight girls, and we’d had 300 girls all over Germany and she made us all cry in the casting.
There must be so many more stories to be told. Would you revisit the war?
CS: No! I’d like to do another film in Germany but not one dealing with this period.
Lore is currently playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

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