Lore Cate Shortland

Adapted from Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room, Lore takes as its morally ambiguous (and oft-ignored) subject the shattered illusions of four flaxen-haired siblings following the collapse of the Third Reich. Director Cate Shortland’s sophomore feature is a grim bildungsroman that takes hold of the entire sensorium as it gracefully unfolds.

When her pro-Nazi mother (The White Ribbon’s Ursina Lardi) decides to turn herself in following her husband’s arrest, the teenage Lore (remarkable newcomer Saskia Rosendahl) is left in charge of leading her younger siblings to the safety of their grandmother’s home in Hamburg. Struggling to find food and shelter, the Aryan orphans are taken under the wing of a young Jewish survivor (Kai Peter-Malina), the object of Lore’s lust as well as her ingrained contempt. As was the case with Shortland’s Somersault (04), the coming-of-age tale is grounded in the multifarious meanings of the burgeoning female body as a site of desire, a commodity for exchange, and a mechanism for survival.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw’s camera devotes as much attention to the textured subtleties of the natural surroundings as it does to the characters: the dampness of moss underfoot, or the sticky texture of a snail’s trail. The bleak backdrop is rendered with great beauty—so much so that perhaps the sensory poetics of the visuals linger beyond their darker implications.