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Review: ‘Lore’ a peculiar Holocaust film that’s also beautiful

In the cinema of the Holocaust, there are movies that are long, like The Sorrow and the Pity (1969, four hours) and Shoah (1985, nine-and-a-half hours). And there are movies that are short, like Night and Fog (1955, 30 minutes). All, in their own ways, are devastating.

And then there are Holocaust movies of conventional length that explore corners of absurdity, like Europa Europa (1990), in which a Jewish boy escapes the Nazis by joining the Hitler Youth. The more recent Lore is one of those smaller, peculiar movies. Death and sex (or, more specifically, rape) are themes introduced early.

Berlin having fallen, an SS officer in the German countryside burns official papers and shoots the family dog. His wife dresses, but pauses to look at her naked body in a mirror. They abandon their five children, who are given money and jewelry for a cross-country trip to their grandmother’s house. Lore (pronounced “Laura”) is the beautiful, oldest child, perhaps 15, who has a pretty sister a few years younger, even younger twin brothers and an infant brother. Fair-skinned and blue eyed, the children look like the Master Race.

Directed by an Australian, Cate Shortland, the film is a coming-of-age odyssey in the Black Forest. Lore, played by the remarkable Saskia Rosendahl, is coldly anti-Semitic, as taught by her Nazi parents, but intent on saving her siblings. She accepts help from an older teenage boy named Thomas, who says he is Jewish.

The cinematography, by Adam Arkapaw, is reminiscent of Sven Nykvist, who shot many films for Ingmar Bergman. With its emotions communicated by gesture and glance, the film itself is Bergman, too. If a film about the Holocaust could be described as beautiful, then this is a beautiful film.