Set in 1945 in the Bavarian countryside just after Germany has surrendered near the end of W.W. II, this is the coming-of-age/survival story of teenage Hannalore Dressler (Saskia Rosendahl), nicknamed Lore, who is left in charge when her parents are taken into custody for war crimes during the Third Reich. Just before her mother (Ursina Lardi) departs, she instructs stolid, responsible Lore to take her four younger siblings – ranging in age from an infant to pre-teen – to their grandmother’s house, some 500 miles to the north, near Hamburg.
As they traipse across the Black Forest countryside, where bloodied corpses lie unburied, they barter their meager possessions for food and medicine. Anti-Semitism is rampant, as many villagers believe that the shameful Holocaust images posted on bulletin boards were staged by actors. Along the way, they’re stopped by American soldiers who demand to see their identification papers. Observing their fearful dilemma is Thomas (Kai Malina), a German lad with a number tattooed on his arm; he is pretending to be a Jew in an attempt to avoid incarceration by the Allies. Coming to their rescue with his stolen papers containing a yellow star, he says they’re his siblings, traveling from Buchenwald to Auschwitz before liberation. While grateful, sullen Lore is, nevertheless, stubbornly conflicted; her Nazi indoctrination through Hitler’s Youth Corps has taught her to distrust and loathe Jews. As their journey is fraught with danger, Thomas becomes their leader and guardian, arousing Lore’s sexuality and forcing her to question her beliefs.
Spoken entirely in German and directed with stunning detachment and admirable restraint, it’s helmed by Australian director Cate Shortland, who adapted Robin Mukherjee’s screenplay, based on one of three stories in Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel “The Dark Room.” Selected as Australia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, it didn’t make the final shortlist.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lore” is an indelible 9, truthfully chronicling the triumph of the human spirit and in a class with Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.”