Although set in Germany in the last days of World War II, Australian director Cate Shortland's harsh and poetic survival tale recalls the dreamlike allegory of Nicholas Roeg's Outback-set Walkabout (1971).
The parents in both films — in Walkabout a suicidal bourgeois, in Lore a fugitive Nazi war-criminal and his wife — abandon their children to a hostile wasteland. In both, an older sister dutifully takes charge but must begrudgingly accept the help of an alien "inferior" — in Walkabout an Aboriginal boy, and in Lore a Jew who has escaped from a concentration camp. Shortland also evokes the visionary vistas of Roeg's film, with the fairy-tale landscapes of Bavaria occasionally marred by a burnt-out tank, bombed-out town, solitary corpse, or a line of refugees. Unfortunately, like Roeg, after subtly depicting the initiation from innocence to experience, from illusion to reality, Shortland concludes her film with a homily.
Until then, though, the story proceeds with shocking, haunting authenticity. When her sweating father drives off with as much of his plunder as he can fit into his staff car and her mother, after being brutally raped, marches down the same picturesque road to surrender to the Allies, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) hangs on to her Aryan pride, until the food runs out. When her younger brother steals from the neighbors, they must hit the road, where the sinister Thomas (Kai Malina) first stalks and then helps them — employing ruthlessness, cunning, and his Jewish identity card. At first repugnant to Lore as the despised Other, Thomas becomes increasingly attractive — perhaps for the same reason.
Rosendahl puts the onslaught of horror and absurdity in poignant perspective with her limpid depiction of her character's growing resourcefulness and awareness. Shortland, though, is less confident, leaving Lore and the viewer with a familiar lesson that was never in doubt.