It could be an image out of classic folklore: a girl, abandoned by her parents on the brink of womanhood, guides her younger siblings through a dark enchanted forest, past ogres and abysses, all the way to grandmother’s house. But the forest is Germany in May of 1945, the Third Reich is in the final stages of collapse, and the heroine’s journey is toward a tortured acceptance of her country’s and family’s guilt.
“Lore” — even the title has the heft of legend — is the second film by the gifted Australian director Cate Shortland, and it occupies a stark dramatic minefield somewhere between historical reality and psychosexual myth. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) — short for Hannelore — is a pigtailed 14-year-old when we first meet her, delighted that her father (Hans Jochen-Wagner), has returned from the war. But Papa is preoccupied with burning documents and escaping the Allies, and Mutti (Ursina Lardi) curses her husband’s cowardice and gives herself up to the conquerors. Take the other children, she tells Lore, and get to safety in Hamburg, 500 kilometers away across the Black Forest.