The story of Lore starts in 1945. Left to fend for herself when her SS officer father and mother, a staunch Nazi believer, are interred by the victorious Allies at the end of World War II, Lore, a fourteen-year-old German girl (striking newcomer Saskia Rosendahl), must lead her four siblings on a harrowing journey across a devastated country. When she meets the charismatic and mysterious young refugee Thomas, (Kai Malina, The White Ribbon,) Lore soon finds her world shattered by feelings of hatred and desire as she must put her trust in the very person she was always taught to hate in order to survive.
Lore was Australia’s Official Selection for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Cate Shortland, writer and director of Lore has written and directed four multi-award winning short. Cate’s first feature SOMERSAULT, which premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section. In 2004, Cate won 13 Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writer and SOMERSAULT was released in over 15 countries. Cate directed a number of episodes of THE SECRET LIFE OF US for Network 10/Channel 4 UK. She also directed the 2 x 1 hour mini series THE SILENCE for ABC TV, produced by Jan Chapman and most recently adapted one of the stories from Christos Tsiolkas’ novel THE SLAP for producers Tony Ayres and Helen Bowden, Matchbox Pictures for ABC TV, which went on to win numerous ACCTA awards including Best Television Drama Series.
Bijan Tehrani: What elements in The Darkroom, the book by Rachel Seiffert, encouraged you to make the film?
Cate Shortland: The perspective. I was really fascinated by the idea of making something about children of perpetrators. I also liked the way she wrote the book: she did not moralize, she gave it up to the reader to make up their own idea about guilt and responsibility, what it all means. It was very scary but it was also a huge challenge.
BT: How much did you change the story from the book for the film?
CS: The basic story is very similar. We made Laura two years older, so about fourteen instead of twelve, and that allowed us to have more of a sexual component to the film. We also accentuated the violence. Things that were just hinted at, we showed on the screen.
Because it is based on a true story, we were able to speak to Rachel Seiffert, the author, about her mother Laura and what happens on the real journey, so this gave us another side.
We also did an immense amount of research and interviewed people who had been in Hitler youth and Bund Deutscher Mädel, which is German Girl’s League.
BT: Also interesting is this way that you go with the characters. You don’t know where you are headed or where you will end, it was a bit scary. How intentional was this?
CS: The children in the film are kind of lost in a way in this Nazi fairyland. They don’t have papers so they can’t travel on the road, they have to travel through the forest and they don’t understand that the Allies have taken over, that Germany has been carved up into these different territories. So all these things that they took as a given, especially the superiority of the German people, crumbles around them. There’s another theme going on which is the moral bankruptcy of their country, especially for Laura: Laura starts in the film thinking of her father as a hero and about halfway through the film she discovers that her father is a mass murderer. So the feeling of fear and the unknown is a big factor in the children’s psyche.
BT: Something that you mentioned and that I felt strongly while watching the film is that this is like a very dark fairytale. It has the concept of a fairytale.
CS: Yes, and this was in the book. What’s been interesting in my research is some people have linked the whole Romantic movement in Germany to National Socialism, because both of them are often based on nature. So we used that in the film and created Germany as a major character. We had the lady whom we called the widower, who’s a bit like the gingerbread house witch in Hansel and Gretel. Thomas is a bit like the wolf… So there are all these archetypes in the landscape of the film.
BT: Saskia does such a great performance as Lore. How did you find her and how did you work with her on the part?
CS: Saskia Rosendahl had not acted before this film. She was in her last year of high school and she was training to be a classical dancer. When she came in for the casting, we met this very intelligent, very graceful, quite serious young girl. By the end of the day, we were all crying because she completely works off her instincts. If we gave her directions like “you’re in the room with him and you can’t let him go, you’re afraid that if he goes, you’re going to die”, Saskia would physicalize everything. At one point, she grabbed hold of Kai Malina who played Thomas and he backed away from her and sort of dragged her along the ground. I don’t think I’d ever seen an actor like that before. She has no experience but completely works off her physical impulses. It was a really exciting way to work.
She’s also very intelligent: she did not have this didactic fear of what Laura was. She really tried to withhold her judgment and let the viewer decide.
BT: I also remember when I first saw a performance from Kai Malina In The White Ribbon, I thought he could be an excellent actor, and I think you’ve done an amazing job with him in the film. His part is so great! How was working with him?
CS: It was really great. He had about twice as much dialogue in the script, and he didn’t speak much English but he would tell me “Kate, this is bullshit, he wouldn’t say this!” because he was looking at the character as a criminal who has done something terrible and doesn’t want to give himself away. So there was always this fantastic clandestine edge to him . He wasn’t giving himself away, he would do absolutely anything to survive and there was no moral certainty to him. It was a very exciting character to work with.
BT: Adam’s work as a cinematographer is fascinating. How did you decide on the look of the film?
CS: We knew there was no point in making a big historical drama because these have been made so many times and this film has such a different perspective. We are trying to create something far more immediate and not looking at it from such a retrospective place. We shot 16mm and shot a lot in a documentary style, which allowed Adam to interact with the kids a lot. When we were in nature, we had small trucks and we would take about five people and the kids into the wilderness, leaving the big set about twenty minutes away. We always tried to separate ourselves from the main shoot so that it would feel more real to the children and they wouldn’t have constantly to pretend.
Adam was very adamant that he wouldn’t shoot something unless he and I were excited by it so we collaborated very well. He doesn’t just cover a theme but interrogates it.
BT: I believe this film applies to any period of time and is important especially today. The film shows it is hard to find the real border between good and evil, everything has gray areas…
CS: Yes. I look at Israel and Palestine now and look at the children, and I think, “can’t they just look at the children’s faces and make a decision to try and help these kids?” The way that it continues is horrendous.
BT: It’s very interesting that you start with a Nazi family and Lore discovers the world is very different from what she’s been told…
CS: In every society, we’re always trying to indoctrinate our kids, aren’t we?
BT: I found your films are a bit like those of European filmmakers, going towards the dark side, going in depth into the characters. Do you feel close to European filmmakers?
CS: I’m interested in psycho sexual stories, inner secrets. The hardest in this story for me is her relationship with her father and her relationship with Thomas, and the fact that she’s awakening to the world at the same time that her sexuality is awakening.
Even though it is a horrible, tough subject matter, there is a tenderness to it, someone discovering their humanity. What are we beneath our masks and underneath how we see ourselves and how society perceives us?
BT: Any new projects?
CS: I am working on a feature film with Jan Chapman. She produced my first film and she produced The Piano, Bright Star, Lantana. She’s a great producer.