October 2012

Arts & Letters

'Lore' by Cate Shortland (director)

By Fenella Souter

It’s spring 1945 and in a handsome German house deep in a forest, the Dressler family are preparing to flee. The unthinkable is on their doorstep: the Führer is losing the war; the victors are about to become the vanquished. Past and future are deftly sketched in the opening moments of Lore: a doomed German shepherd barks savagely in a blue night; rosy-cheeked children help to pack the family crystal and ferry documents to a bonfire stoked by their father, an SS officer freshly back from killing Jews and communists in Belarus. His harried wife, her Aryan elegance already coming apart at the seams, sorts through the study. The camera pauses on a ringbinder marked ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring – CONFIDENTIAL’.

This beautifully shot, powerful and tense work from Australian director Cate Shortland (Somersault) is based on Rachel Seiffert’s novel, The Dark Room, about postwar German guilt and contrition. The film centres on the couple’s eldest daughter, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), creamy-skinned, blue-eyed and reflexively Hitler-loving. She’s a Wagnerian maiden in braids about to be rudely awoken from the spell cast over the land.

When her parents are taken away by the Allies, the teenager must lead her four young siblings across a stunned, divided Germany to their grandmother’s northern home, in a journey that is part fairytale, part Dantesque descent as Lore is exposed to the real Reich that has been festering beneath her untroubled existence in Bavaria. It takes her some time to understand that her kind of German is now the wrong one, and even then she’s not quite sure why. There’s bewilderment when she gives a “Heil Hitler” to a German farmer only to receive an annoyed grunt in reply. Her confusion spikes when the young family’s fortunes come to rest on the shoulders of a Jewish refugee, Thomas (Kai Malina). Lore wrestles with mistrust, and lust.

Shortland’s film, loaded with stunning images, is lyrical but tough. It could have settled for cliché – girl realises Nazi parents were evil – but instead presents something closer to the complicated, misguided dream of an arrogant nation. The Holocaust, though mentioned only obliquely, is monstrously present. In a centre where the Americans have pinned up photos of the death camps, Lore overhears a conversation that sounds like a black joke: “I had to look at dead Jews for hours just to get bread,” says one man. “Yes, but you got two loaves,” says the other. There are no laughs for Lore, however. The uniformed officer in one of the photos is her father.

Fenella Souter

Fenella Souter is a Sydney-based feature writer.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Letter from Dunkley

As a byelection draws the nation’s focus to the scrappy suburb of the author’s childhood, a visit reveals the damage wrought by the housing crisis

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

In This Issue

Brett Whiteley painting Francis Bacon's portrait, London, 1984. Photograph by John Edwards. Image courtesy of Art Gallery NSW.

Anecdotes

Remembering Australian painters

The Best of Australian Arts 2012

'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

'Questions of Travel', Michelle de Kretser,
Allen and Unwin; $39.99

'Questions of Travel' by Michelle de Kretser


More in Arts & Letters

David Malouf, March 2015 in Sydney

An imagined life: David Malouf

Celebrating the literary great’s 90th birthday with a visit to his incongruous home of Surfers Paradise to discuss a life in letters

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

Jeffrey Wright in ‘American Fiction’

The dread of the author: ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Argylle’

Cord Jefferson’s satire about Black artists fighting white perceptions of their work runs out of ideas, while Matthew Vaughn’s spy movie parody has no ideas of its own

U2 performing in the Las Vegas Sphere

Where the feats have no name: ‘U2:UV’ at Sphere

It’s no surprise it took U2 to launch post-stadium rock via a spectacular immersive show within the technical marvel of Las Vegas’s newest venue


More in Noted

Cover of Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement: On Being Critical’

Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement’

The American author and critic’s essay collection moves from her gripes with contemporary cultural criticism to personal reflection

Cover of Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

The Canadian writer’s presentation of sentence-long entries from her diaries, organised alphabetically, delivers a playful and unpredictable self-examination

Still from ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

‘Boy Swallows Universe’

The magical realism in Netflix’s adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling novel derails its tender portrayal of family drama in 1980s Brisbane’s suburban fringe

Cover of ‘Kids Run the Show’

Delphine de Vigan’s ‘Kids Run the Show’

The French author’s fragmentary novel employs the horror genre to explore anxieties about intimacy, celebrity and our infatuation with life on screens


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality