So it was my second and last go at tiff today. This time I saw Lore, a German/Australian film directed by Cate Shortland, based on a novel called The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert. It takes place in Germany in the spring and summer of 1945. It’s about a family of five children, the eldest being the protagonist, Lore, whose father is an SS Officer directly involved in a death-camp. As the allies consolidate their hold on Germany, both parents are arrested. Left alone, the children travel from the Black Forest in the south to their grandmother’s house in the north. Once again, I’m not really reviewing so much as… musing, so here’s a link to more useful information, and an interview with Shortland, on the AFI Blog.
I picked the film because I’m interested in how we represent periods—moments, days, weeks—of transition between one sort of regime and another. I think it goes back to reading Doctor Zhivago at an impressionable age, and being haunted by Pasternak’s Russian Revolution, but I had similar responses to J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, and to India’s Partition in Deepa Mehta’s Earth. These texts describe the terrifying vulnerability of the stateless, those who have no recourse because no nation claims them, or has the power to claim them.
It’s strange to think that there can be a moment when you go from having one sort of identity—say, a German and a Nazi—to having an entirely different sort of identity—the displaced object of an occupying force, without papers, without citizenship, because the state and family to which you once belonged has ceased to exist.
Lore is about debellatio, the total destruction, by military means, of the death-cult of Nazi Germany. It is, therefore, necessarily about the holocaust, though it approaches the unapproachable indirectly. It’s about the slow, dreadful creep of realization rather than the instant revelation of fact. Lore encounters the truth—and hears the deniers—as she travels through the dismantled landscape of the reich, and in the process changes from child to adult, from Nazi to something else, something new that can survive both the revelation of guilt and the destruction of the nation. I never quite grasped what she became, but I am content not knowing.
The film’s power is not only in the simplicity of its narrative, but in the collision of iconographies. These are beautiful children—blond, Aryan, healthy—traveling through a pastoral that seems to literalize the agrarian promise of the reich: the forested, hilly homeland of Tacitus’s Germania, the implausibly beautiful landscape of the volk, of Grimm’s fairy tales. However, among the forests and fields and hills and homesteads of rural Germany the holocaust is always present, not only because we know the context of these events, even when the child-characters do not, but because the holocaust’s iconography saturates what is, otherwise, a shockingly beautiful film. Abandoned shoes, crowded trains, naked and violated bodies, starvation, the constant threat of violence—these are the film’s touchstones, the images to which Shortland returns again and again. Wherever she goes, Lore is haunted by events she does not understand, and which she will probably never grasp (which of us ever does?), as though the German landscape can never ever be free of this truth. As though the holocaust has disrupted the natural world itself. So while the film may begin with Lore’s parents stripping the family photo-albums of Nazi paraphernalia and burning the evidence of their guilt, the landscape remembers what they deny.
When I left the theatre I felt like the film’s point-of-view—its child’s first-person perspective on beauty and terror, intimate, disorienting, incomprehensible—had changed the way I saw the sunlight and trees and people on the street outside. It’s been a long time since I felt that way after a film, though I think it used to be the reason I went to the movies.
It was bright out there. I elbowed through crowds waiting for a celebrity to show up, someone named Megan, I heard from a nice woman in a bright orange t-shirt. People were happy and excited and chatty.
If anything sums up my limited experience of tiff, it’s the strange feeling of dislocation I had standing on Gerrard street this afternoon, halfway between debellatio and celebrities, whatever that means. I wish I could have seen more of it.