American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
“Lore” gets right down to business. We're in Germany at the end of World War II, watching a large, once-prosperous family pack hurriedly to avoid the onslaught of Allied forces. A Swastika emblem on a discarded piece of clothing tells us we're dealing not with mere German citizens but Nazis. No wonder the mother looks petrified as she torches documents and the father flees at the first opportunity.
Other than the rather slovenly father, this is one gorgeous family. The mother might as well be Marlene Dietrich in her prime. The eldest daughter looks like a Leni Riefenstahl Aryan goddess. Her four younger siblings have been spared none of the stunner genes. That these Hitler Youth are easy to watch on a superficial level seems part of director Cate Shortland's strategy: We are about to see these beauties trudge through every muddy, thorny stretch of the Black Forest, into the kind of indignities and horrors their parents' political party inflicted upon the Jews. We know where this is going pretty early on, but that doesn't prevent “Lore” from being riveting stuff, start to finish.
The focus shifts from the mother, doomed to face Allied justice for her and her husband's apparent connection to a concentration camp, to Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), the daughter whose coming of age happens alongside her awakening to the truth: Hitler, her Santa Claus, her Jesus, presided over genocide.
Shortland is a sensualist, using constantly shifting handheld cameras shooting tight and close to make each step of Lore's education a palpable event. When she leads her siblings through the forest on a quest to grandmother's house, it ain't fairytale stuff. We see poorly shod feet set down in mud puddles, skin scratched and bruised by jutting branches, the air crowded with insects, smoke, mist, rain. Shortland seems determined to represent every kind of sensation and yearning in image and sound.