Teenager Lore and her four younger siblings are left to fend for themselves after her Nazi SS parents are taken into Allied custody.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
- Director Cate Shortland
- Producer Benny Drechsel, Karsten Stöter, Liz Watts, Paul Welsh
- Screenwriter Cate Shortland, Robin Mukherjee
- With Saskia Rosendahl, Nele Trebs, André Frid
- Germany-Australia-UK 2012
- 109 mins
- UK distribution Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd
Set in Germany at the end of World War Two, Australian director Cate Shortland’s much anticipated follow-up to her debut feature Somersault is based on the second story in Rachel Seiffert’s Booker-shortlisted novel The Dark Room. When her Nazi SS parents are taken into Allied custody, teenage Lore (newcomer Saskia Rosendahl) and her four younger siblings are left to fend for themselves. Oblivious to the implications of the turn in historical events and indoctrinated in the extreme beliefs of their parents, the children set out on a gruelling 900km journey across ravaged post-war Germany to join their grandmother in Hamburg. Struggling with the responsibility of caring for the children and confronted by the aftermath of Nazism, Lore is simultaneously repulsed, defiant and intrigued when she encounters Thomas, a young Jewish survivor. Shortland is unswerving in her navigation of this sensitive historical terrain, prising open the ambiguities of collective denial and individual desire. Adam Arkapaw’s (Snowtown; Animal Kingdom) lush cinematography and Max Richter’s (Waltz with Bashir) indelible score collude with the gripping storytelling to enhance the tension between the intimacy of Lore’s awakening and the horror of the broader landscape in which it occurs.
When I first read The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert it resonated with me on many levels. The three distinct stories in the novel make history experiential and intimate as each is told from the perspective of a young person trying to make sense of fascist Germany. The struggles of the characters are disturbing but also utterly moving. I was fascinated by Lore’s internal landscape; a frightening place filled with a strange combination of surety and ambiguity. The book was given to me by Scottish producer Paul Welsh after a screening of my first film, Somersault, in Edinburgh. Liz Watts, my Australian producer, had given the book to my husband as a birthday present a few months before. There was sense of serendipity. Rachel writes in fragments, stark observations without commentary. It was frightening to think of adapting her novel to film, as she draws no conclusions. The story was relevant to me, in terms of what it means to be the child of perpetrators. Australia’s relationship to its colonial history is suppressed, and having spent quite a lot of time in post-Apartheid South Africa and in Germany, these questions are often in my mind. What would I have done in the midst of genocide and horror? Would I have stood up for the weak and persecuted or rather, like most, been a silent bystander or even worse, complicit? The story is also close to me as my husband’s German Jewish family left Berlin in 1936. It is his family photographs in Thomas’s wallet. And it is his grandmother’s stories that also tie me to Lore, to wanting to understand this dark and painful time. Although I speak virtually no German I knew that the film had to be made in that language to have any level of truth. I worked with the German script editor Franz Rodenkirchen and interviewed elderly Berliners who had been members of Hitler Jugend and Bund Deutscher Mädel. Their stories and attitudes and even on occasion, a complicated nostalgia, helped me understand Lore. The research I did, especially that into the Einsatzgruppen in Belarus was at times overwhelming. The victims were always just outside of the frame for me. There was no other way of making the film. This was a reality in the filming as well, some of the beautiful houses we used as locations in the former GDR were built by Jewish merchants before the war. Now they stand empty and derelict. Many of the locations such as the armaments factory were manned by slave labourers. Now these places are deserted and overgrown. Lore and her siblings are the privileged children of a high ranking SS officer involved in mass murder in Belarus. While they play hopscotch, children across Europe are being systematically murdered. Lore’s family is untouched until her father returns from the East in 1945. In 1939 Lore’s father was a war hero, in 1945 when the film begins, he is a criminal. I wanted to understand what this does to the psyche of a child. How does a person grow up knowing that those closest to them have committed unimaginable crimes and that genocide happened in the midst of their ‘everyday’. What drew me to Lore and at times repulsed and angered me, was the opportunity to delve into the grey areas. Lore is a believer in one of the most abhorrent and destructive political ideologies of our time. I wanted to understand her lack of empathy, her romantic determination to keep believing even when Germany was suffering defeat. Hitler was seen not only as her Fuhrer but also as a beloved father figure. As he stated ‘The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain.’ Lore feels it is her duty to carry this pain uncomplainingly. I was drawn to understand her fight with her own humanity and sense of belonging. The outside world is oblivious to Lore and her siblings’ plight and Lore becomes more and more detached from society. But within her detachment is a growing certainty – she is lost and adrift but she knows something of the awful truth. She has been taught never to question but to obey. By the end of the story she is full of questions that she knows will never be answered.
A Sydney University graduate (BA in Fine Arts in 1991), she later graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School with a Graduate Diploma in Directing. Having written and directed four multi award-winning shorts – Strap On Olympia (Gold Plaque, Chicago IFF 1995), Pentuphouse (Dendy Award, Sydney FF 1999), Flowergirl (Dendy Award, Sydney FF 2000; Oberhausen 16mm Best Film) and Joy (Best Film, Melbourne IFF 2000) – she wrote and directed her first feature Somersault which premiered at Cannes in 2004 in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section and won Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Director and Writer. Cate set up and directed a number of episodes of The Secret Life of Us for Network 10/Channel 4 UK, directed the mini-series The Silence for ABC TV, and most recently adapted one of the stories from Christos Tsiolkas’ novel The Slap, which went on to win numerous ACCTA awards including Best Television Drama Series, and recently aired in the UK.
1995 Strap on Olympia [s]
1999 Pentuphouse [s]
2000 Flowergirl [s]; Joy [s]