Reif with ideas about the German past, all clearly enunciated while wedged between storylines, Cate Shortland’s Lore (2012) is a coming-of-age fiction based on the novel The Dark Ship by Rachel Seiffert and set in the social, psychological and physical rubble of the Second World War. Hannelore, her pre-pubescent sister Liesel and their two younger brothers, Gunter und Jürgen, begin a journey from their family’s summer home in Bavaria up to Omi’s house in Hamburg. Directed by their Nazi mother in fairytale fashion to take the trains, go through the mud and find Omi’s house at the end, all while she is packing her Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter before her arrest, the children are left alone to face Germany at Stunde Null. On their way between survivor camps, trying to find a singular running train, Hannelore (Lore) meets Thomas, a Jewish boy going on 18. Between the developmental sexual tensions and starvation frustrations, Lore is an a-typical rubble film, but belongs in the category because of its dealing with the immediate post-war German psyche and environment. Using the framework of Professor Robert Shandley’s ‘Seven Rs of Rubble Film’ (Redemption, Reconciliation, Redefinition, Restabilization, Reintegration, Reconstruction, Reprivatization), this paper will position Lore within the genre, while complicating and delineating the genre paradigm with its inclusion; directed by an Austrailian of German heritage, produced with documentarian attention to realism and historical detail, set primarily in the American zone and Schwarzwald, Lore represents a neo-rubble hyperrealistic depiction of womanhood during occupation from the perspective of an adolescent’s journey through the rubble.
Thematic Placement of ‘Lore’ and Other Rubble Films
Essential to the rubble film is being among the rubble. Though this is the constant, the original genre of rubble film finds its departure into “The Lost Years” from 1949-1963, the post-Oberhausen Manifesto (OM) generation (Franklin, 1983) and finally, the neo-rubble generation (Moeller, 2014). Why are there only four years of original rubble, when it took 30 years to rebuild the Frankfurt Altstadt? Suggested by MUBI to occupy the postwar period of 1946-1949, “original” rubble films have a character deeper than authenticity of the rubble. Of course, this four-year time span does not represent the remaining rubble in both Germanys. It discounts the authenticity of the rubble used as the set for The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). By virtue of ending in 1949, what the postwar period suggests about original rubble films is that they are pre-Konrad Adenauer and pre-68er student movements. Ideologically, “original” rubble films stand for a time when those producing the rubble films were the same people who had staffed the Nazi Dream Factory (Shandley: 181), those filmmakers who were “employed to deceive, distract and mold the German public” during the Third Reich (10). This generation of film has been criticized for not giving an honest depiction of the past. Shandley suggests that the second generation of rubble films “used this alleged failure on the part of their predecessors and parents as a rhetorical foil against which they posited their own cinematic project,” (181) alluding to the signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto. This paper advances the genre towards a neo-rubble turn, meaning that the original rubble film is being revived after many years of its existence within a “cinema of confrontation” (181). Lore is notably absent of significant political ideological preoccupations, and rather sticks to a realistic depiction of rubble life.
Perhaps because director Cate Shortland is an Australian documentarian, but Lore doesn’t quite pass within the nostalgic lineage of post-OM generation rubble films like Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (1980) and Das Wunder von Bern (1994). Even though Lore “revisualizes and revises the past” (Frey, 2013) like any historical film, it doesn’t fall decisively within the heritage genre and stands out as an art-house film without post-OM qualities – a neo-rubble film. Lore does not satirize original rubble film like the fake bombings in Maria or the melodrama in Bleiche Mutter, but it still belongs alongside these films in the rubble category. In the book Postwall German Cinema, Matthias Frey cites Shandley’s 7Rs to contend that Das Wunder is indeed in the rubble category because it includes a restabilization of society and a restoration of “moral security” (27), and suggests that Das Wunder, like Maria, has a reconciliation at the end. Claiming that Das Wunder and other post-OM films used “tropes” (28) of postwar films, Frey might entice a Deleuzian reading of Das Wunder as a “monopoly of reproductions,” a “utilisation of the residue of conventions,” (Cinema 1: 26). Such artificiality is avoided in Lore by virtue of its unique placement outside the city rubble, in the Schwarzwald, its complication of art-house genre’s melodramatic nature, and its collective protagonist-viewer consciousness. Frey discusses how the reconciliation is actually a reaction of Das Wunder against original rubble films. Original rubble films often hinted towards reconciliation with the (former) enemy but never fully achieved it (Shandley: 184). What brings Lore forward as a neo-rubble film is its engagement with original rubble film metanarratives without a critical reaction to them. Lore does not have a reconciliation with the enemy, though the opportunity arises during her journey with Thomas. Nothing between the Jew and the Hitler Mädel becomes resolved.
Considering Lore within the genre of “neo-rubble”, it is necessary to look into what makes a genre “neo”. Neo-noir is an applicable comparison by virtue of its cultural and historical proximity with rubble films. In The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, author Mark Conard implies the “neo” turn as a self-reflective genre that itself “functions as a kind of philosophy of noir”. If philosophy, particularly existentialist philosophy, defines the noir genre, Shandley would say that Vergangenheitsbewältigung defines the rubble genre (182). Lore stands out from the post-OM generation because it doesn’t mock original rubble films. Instead, I argue that Lore takes a reflexive turn, functioning itself as Vergangenheitsbewältigung – an ongoing process of coming to terms with the past. It does this through its unclosed endings and hyperrealistic aesthetic choices. In Theodor Adorno’s lecture “Was bedeutet: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit?” (1959), the continued process of reconciliation is positioned against the idea of guilt, much like Lore’s engagement with lived reality is positioned against post-OM critical realities. Adorno says:
“Bei alldem jedoch hat die Rede vom Schuldkomplex etwas Unwahrhaftiges… Das zöge die Moral aus jenem >>Und ist so gut, als wär’ es nicht gewesen<<, das von Goethe stammt, aber an entscheidener Stelle des Faust, vom Teufel gesprochen wird, um dessen innerstes Prinzip zu enthüllen, die Zerstörung von Erinnerung.”
In Sonja Boos’ introduction to Adorno’s lecture, she reminds us that the preoccupation with guilt is seen by Adorno as an “objective constellation… it is the destiny of political entanglements that constitutes the nexus of guilt.” This objective and political construal of society is notable in post-OM films; in both Das Wunder and Maria Braun, the camera views them from the outside. In Lore, the camera becomes one with Lore’s and with Thomas’s emotions, and, apart from the longshot cross-cuts of landscapes, occupies itself with nothing else – nature is the backdrop, instead of a berubbled Berlin. Adorno’s commentary about subjectivity engages the feelings the viewer has alongside Lore’s journey through a callous world:
“Nach der subjektiven Seite, in der Psyche der Menschen, steigerte der Nationalsozialismus den kollektiven Narzißmus, schlicht gesagt: die nationale Eitelkeit ins Ungemessene. Die narzißtischen Triebregungen der Einzelnen, denen die verhärtete Welt immer weniger Befriedigung verspricht und die doch ungemindert fortbestehen, solange die Zivilisation ihnen sonst so viel versagt, finden Ersatzbefriedigung in der Identifikation mit dem Ganzen.”
Lore’s dependence on her National Socialist identity, the world she was born into, carries her throughout the film. Her continued ideological battle with Thomas and her steadfast, in Ordnung character confirms this internal battle that has little to do with guilt or politics. It is in this sense that Lore is a reflexive and therefore neo-rubble film, because it doesn’t work on the project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung through objective criticisms like guilt, but rather, she experiences the process of coming to terms with the past.
In the singular other article classifying a film as “neo-rubble”, Maria Moeller suggests that The Good German, directed by Steven Soderbergh in 2006, is “a film not made in the aftermath of WWII, but which revives and further develops some of the most distinctive narrative and visual patterns of the rubble films, with the technical possibilities of a modern Hollywood studio,” (98). We can immediately see a generational relationship between Soderbergh and Shortland’s films, though I find Moeller’s positioning of The Good German as a neo-rubble film to be as superficial as its Hollywood interpretation of Stunde Null. On a most basic level, the plot doesn’t enter German life – the film is about Americans visiting Berlin on a mission – it is inherently objective and political. Her commentary on neo-rubble echoes Conard’s cinematic evidence for neo-noir as an uptake of modern technology to depict themes enigmatic of film noir. She also cites Shandley’s thematic umbrella for rubble films as “‘good Germans’ during ‘bad times’” (87), which she claims is enigmatic of the “escapist attitude in dealing with the past and present period in the aftermath of the war and Nazism,” (ibid.). Moeller focuses on Shandley’s R for redefinition of the Germans as the guilt of The Good German’s leading characters, who actively try to “endanger their lives to serve justice” (92), which implies their reconciliation with the past. Unlike Das Wunder and The Good German, Lore maintains the original rubble film tendency to not have a full reconciliation, rather, it presents a new scope to the greater problem; in the end, Lore rebels against the conventions of her lineage and destroys the final porcelain figure of her mother’s. Unlike Das Wunder and The Good German, Lore maintains the original rubble film tendency to avoid a full reconciliation. Rather, Lore presents a new scope to the greater problem; in the end, Lore rebels against the conventions of her lineage and destroys the final porcelain figure of her mother’s.
NPR movie critic Ella Taylor suggests that the porcelain figure is a “sentimental symbol of her shattered harmony”. Lore’s rebellion against Omi and her mother reflects the generational conversation of Deutschland Bleiche Mutter as well. Unlike the observational standpoint in Lore, by which the audience is meant to know as little as Lore and yet know more from a historically omniscient perspective, Bleiche Mutter quite clearly depicts the Nazi as the rapist aggressors and makes use of more dramatic acting to convey trauma. Perhaps in reaction to this type of stereotypical realism of Maria and Bleiche Mutter, Shortland’s style relies heavily on ambiguity. Tight close-ups and shallow focus narrow viewer attention to the journey of Lore amidst the political tension, rather than actively involved in it. As well, the sexual tension between Lore and Thomas drives this rubble film forward towards reconciliation, not unlike Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns (1946), while romances in Maria, Bleiche Mutter, and Das Wunder were supplementary to this process.
Though Shortland maintained a strict historical hyperrealism which guides the viewer alongside the postwar rationality of a Hitler Youth, she thinks that Lore can address current ideological occupations by virtue of unsettling the audience (Filmmaker Magazine). Phoenix, directed in the same year as Lore by Christian Petzold, also takes this unsettling approach to retrospective. Instead of disturbing the viewer with graphic imagery, Phoenix maintains a constant psychological unease also on the basis of a romantic relationship between a Jew and a German. In both films, rubble was created for a set rather than in reality (Women and Hollywood). In the Evan Calder Williams tradition of salvage punk, this could be considered salvage rubble because it “returns to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things” (Socialism/Barbarism). Lore does not depict the landscapes of winding spires of rubble as in Murderers, but the rubble among the wider landscape of Germany. In an interview with Collider, Shortland says that the houses they used in the Black Forest were in fact remaining relics:
“The two houses we shot early in the film were Jewish houses that had been taken off the families in the 1930s. When we found those houses, they were all boarded up. They had been completely gutted and their fireplaces had been taken out and the windows were shattered.” (2012)
Shortland also emphasised that Lore was shot at a remaining armaments factory in Görlitz which had been a concentration camp. The importance of the factory to rubble film is echoed in Bleiche Mutter, as they journey through factory ruins. Phoenix, on the other hand, used artificial set design for all of its rubble scenes (Variety, 2015). Whether rubble restored from its current state to that of its past, or non-rubble with precise resemblance, they transform “rubble into representation” (von Moltke, 2010) giving them the genre description of ‘rubble film’. To ‘salvage’ the rubble, in Williams’ terms, would be to expose Walter Benjamin’s “residues of a dream world… the underground currents that actually expose the loops and fuses of repression and its expectations,” (ibid.) rather than abide by a “falseness… the wrong dream image, ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan,” (ibid.). This differentiation recalls the suggested political/ideological departure from the post-Oberhausen Manifesto generation into the more personal neo-rubble film.
In the Senses of Cinema Petzold dossier, Jaimey Fisher also notes a Benjaminian turn in the rubble film Phoenix, he writes: “Phoenix marshals remnants and fragments of a particular historical moment,” using Denkbilder (thought-images) that “collide with the present moment to conjure moments of insight” (ibid.) in their filmic bricolage. He says that Petzold, like Benjamin, “investigates the very fantasy that private life of love and/or family can provide a hermetic space of resistance sealed off from public events,” (ibid.). Like Lore, Phoenix’s character Nelly (Nina Hoss) exists in a constellation of life forces that are always interacting with the postwar reconciliation. The personal life does not stop when the political life exerts itself into it. Like Lore, Phoenix deals with themes only implicated in original rubble films, such as the Jewish question, the female’s perspective in a world suddenly devoid of healthy male figures other than the occupying forces, and, perhaps most thanks to film technology and the possibility for historical research, an increasingly realistic retrospective about life in the rubble. Lore’s neo-rubble departure from Phoenix also has to do with the difference in resonance of these Denkbilder. In the sense of Rainier Maria Rilke’s interpretation of thought images, “The work of the eyes is done, tue nun Herzwerk an den Bildern in dir,” Lore’s aesthetic makeup focuses mostly on her journey rather than on stereotypical images from the post-war period. That is not to say that seeable, physical post-war images are absent, but rather, in the words of Shandley, “the rubble film project is the attempt to separate film discourse from political discourse by reprivatizing the narrative itself,” (187).
Other visual ‘fragments’ of rubble films which cue us to Lore’s postwar residue include trains, tonal relationships and a few direct references between Lore and Maria. Shortland uses fragments of historical research, authentic physical objects and intertextual reference to build a salvaged rubble film, a neo-rubble film. Though Shortland, Petzold and Fassbinder share striking tonal relationships, Shortland’s film stands out for its contrastive aesthetic and the commentary on children’s lives and the situation of rubble-life outside the cities. It balances out other films in the neo-rubble category like the soldier-focused A Good German (2004) and Phoenix. Trains are an element shared between Maria, Phoenix and Lore which spans across the original rubble films, too. In Lore, trains serve the elemental purpose of pushing her journey of redefinition forward. Maria uses trains to contrast her waiting for Hermann. In Phoenix,
she uses the train to imitate her recent return from Auschwitz and her reintegration to society. It is safe to say that trains are the first part of a reconstructed society and are as essential to the rubble film as the U-Bahn is to Berlin. Another rather significant visual callback exists between Lore
and Stunde Null film Der Untergang (2004). Both depict the shooting of
a German Shepard and the burning of Ordner in a pile during the onset of occupation. According to Fisher in his comparison of rubble films with the Deleuzian idea of neo-realist films, another essential part is the
instance and effect of occupation (1997). Maria merely makes fun of the occupying forces by depicting them diving for cigarettes and being duped by a German woman. This metaphor certainly doesn’t seem to apply in Lore and Phoenix, which both depict the perverse constraints of occupation upon German women.In both films, the subjection to soldiers is made clear, but this political tension doesn’t drive the plot. Lore reconciles the past with attention to the inward coming-of-age story as a “complex study of moral relativism” (Indiewire, 2012). Shandley would position Lore next to original rubble films, “including The Murderers Are Among Us and Love ’47 [which] dwell on personal rather than materialrehabilitation,” (187),
which also make the case for Lore’s neo-rubble classification. Compared to post-OM films, Lore comes aesthetically and thematically closer to original rubble films without making a satire of them. To that end, the is not fully reconciled and Lore’s redefinition remains still in process.
The (De)Nazification of Lore
“The opening montage of Lore suggests a more complex image of childhood than that of pure innocence… images of Lore bathing, Liesel playing hopscotch, and a brief but sharply focused image of a swastika on a piece of her clothing… suggest a mutli-faceted construction of childhood as traditionally innocent and playful, but also eroticized and politicized” Debbie Pinfold, “The Sins of the Fathers” (2015)
From the outset, Lore represents childhood innocence of the Hitler Youth and the aggressive anti-Semitism they were indoctrinated into during upbringing. Reminding us immediately of Lars Von Treier’s Europa (1991), Lore’s beginning scenes use both montage and a non-diegetic countdown until Stunde Null and Lore’s transition from childhood. Pinfold’s analysis of this scene is that the sister’s “slap of the rope on the barn floor; the chink of the pebble on the hopscotch court,” emphasize that the sister is “standing on solid ground,” while Lore’s Nazism is about to be in question. Marked ‘Himmel’ and ‘Hölle’ at either end of the hopscotch track, the cross-cut to Lore exposing herself out of the window and the arrival of ‘Vati’ foreshadows the lightness and darkness of their family unit. Lit red internally by an outside bonfire of what seem to be Konzentrationslager Inhaftierungsunterlagen belonging to Vati, the feeling is that house, the Heim, of the family is burning into a rubble just like the documents they are trying to hide.
In preparation for their arrests, Mama and Vati tend to different affairs: he, burning the files and shooting the dog, and she, the packing. Shortland directed this scene “by asking all the actors to hurry” (Indiewire, 2013),but also with sight to the events as they would’ve happened. Shortland states that they did workshops with elderly Germans who were part of Bund Deutscher Mädel, watched a lot of documentaries, and “tried to build [the actors] up gradually from the skin instead of starting with the text, so that they already had an organic understanding of the world,” (Collider, 2012) before shooting. As the little boys are pulling their fathers’ files down the stairs to burn, you can see that the files are nearly as big as them. This is reminiscent of a Benjaminian perception in Berlin Childhood 1900, as he experiences the unheimlich world of adults. The sister, Liesel, is as well imbued in a shielded childhood perspective, as she stares at the designs on the china rather than packing it. All the while, Lore is helping her mother pack the silverware and learning commands she would use with her siblings in the coming journey. Mama instructs her to pull a dangling red thread out of her dress bosom, a notation to the viewer that her Ordnung is tied into feminine aspects.
Lore experiences the breakdown leading to the rubble of her mother’s female dignity. Notable early on that the mother’s smoking has become more fervent, Mama’s character seems no less ambivalent to the children than SS-Officer Vati. She emulates the strong Nazi woman, even quoting a soldier’s expression in Untergang “Wir müssen Politik machen” when demanding that Vati turn himself in. Berating the father for being a coward, one of the most arresting traits of rubble film arises: the problematizing of the Nazi masculinity in the twilight of the regime. Not only does Lore witness Mama passively kick Vati in the shins when he forces them to move house, Lore also witnesses Mama’s denial of Vati as a sexual object. Montage cuts from Lore’s perception of Vati’s hand in Mama’s garter, to Mama’s hand meeting Papa’s cheek bring the viewer into the perception of Lore. The camera tends Mama specifically only through Lore’s perception; encounters with the mother are also always encounters with Lore.
In the rubble of Mama’s Nazism, Lore takes on the task of mothering herself (Pinfold, 52-52), while Mama takes on the role of a father. Once Vati is arrested, Mama fixes her hair (in the fashion of Maria Braun, “this is how Americans like it”) and leaves to sell china. Lore discovers Mama with ripped tights and bloodied thighs upon her return, crying hysterically, saying “Er ist tot, Lore! Tot!” Lore looks up from the blood to ask “Vati?!”, and is readily slapped by Mama’s cigarette hand and the response “Unser Führer!” Mama takes on the nationalistic obedience of Vati’s military character and is soon after arrested by American soldiers. The depiction of American soldiers is always brief, as Lore and the viewer only sees them in passing, but Lore’s fear of them is clear when she demands that her siblings obey or the Americans will put them in camps. Though we never see violence committed by the soldiers, Americans are the face of adversity. Pinfold notes the re-use of her mother’s statements when demanding that her siblings obey and suggests that Lore “uses her Nazism to stand tall in the face of adversity”. When the going gets tough, the reversion to recommended Nazi ideals is easy. Shandley’s R for Redefinition applies to Lore taking on the mother role. Her seemingly unwavering anti-semitism is challenged, but there is no reconciliation. Her denazification and coming-of-age constellations are indeed surrounded by political tensions and the possibility to reconcile with the enemy of the semite, but nothing is definite and it is always in process.
Exemplified by the scene of Lore wincing as her father shoots the dog and then learning that he had committed atrocities, Lore’s journey is an informal reeducation. The audience is educated alongside Lore, but with a better historical understanding of the likelihoods and context. Among the ‘educational’ images pasted on the wall by the American soldiers, Lore finds a man with Vati’s uniform and build. She touches the sticky wall, trying to clear away excess glue from the photo, only to cover her fingers in it. While she lies down at night, playing with the glue’s residue between her fingers, she overhears two women discussing how Hitler would have never allowed them to endure the condition of hunger, and how they had to wait for bread in a line with Jews. They are a residue as well, still clinging to old ideas. The motion of her fingers pulling apart suggests the departure from the past. The children’s journey is the emblematic process of reconciling the reality of their parents’ crimes and their personal moral scope, but it is never resolved and never directly addressed. Rather, their journey is addressed under the scope of a non-political nature.
The Hyperrealism of Neo-Rubble
One thing separating Lore from other rubble films is its relationship with and location in nature. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Shortland mentioned sticking close to depicting realistic detail from the time, the use of nature was also a conscious choice, as revealed in an interview with Collider:
“We were influenced by two things: documentary filmmaking, because we wanted the film to be fresh and immediate, and the whole aesthetics of National Socialism with nature. Nature became a character in the same was as it was mythologized within the Nazi party… then, as the film continues, all the color is leeched out of their clothes. The landscape becomes more and more desolate until they are standing on the mud and there’s almost nothing left.” (2012)
Shortland continues to discuss nature by citing the discussion of a survivor in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, in which the interviewee says, “Look, Claude, look at the birds. Look at these beautiful trees. See the sun shining. This is what is was like when they were murdering us.” “Post-war films are made,” says Shortland, “really dark and they have this kind of sepia. I thought, that’s actually not the reality in a lot of cases.” Picking up on the southern German aesthetic choice by using feeble, misty fades, overly-saturated color forest tones, and bright reds and blues well known from propaganda material, Shortland establishes a layered visual field that challenges the sensibilities of previous rubble-films (Cook and Stone, 2014:26).
Cook and Stone comment on Lore’s aesthetic hyperrealism in their 2014 book “Screening European Heritage” by saying that the camera’s “self-conscious use of restraint and authenticity foreground a sense of performativity that invites us to distance ourselves from, and thus reflect upon, the world we are watching,” (xxiv). This is notable in the forest-play scene when the camera is handheld and shaky, so while the subjects are joyfully running and dancing through the forests, the viewer is given a voyeuristic foreshadowing that doesn’t allow one to forget the larger context. As it follows the boys running, and advances from outside the girls’ dance circle and down to their feet, the camera distances the viewer from the play. It is creepy not only because of the suddenly cheery Volksmusik and lighter, almost neon colors amid a sickness of Endkrieg worry, but also because of the notably märchenhaft ambience, which transports the viewer to an omniscient position of knowing that something more negative is on the horizon.
While director of The Good German treated filming as if it were on the black and white level of 1945 but with more CGI, Lore made use of its technical advantages to represent reality. The forest becomes an operable element of realism for Shortland. Using a 25mm and 35mm lens because they are “the closest to human eyes in the world,” lead camera operator Arkapaw had a sense for the reality he depicted. He told the American Cinematographer: “Amongst all the human angst and tragedy, nature has an enduring quality. Its lushness, beauty and survival instincts are a way of [suggesting] the future… using tungsten balanced negatives, it takes the warmth out of the skin tones, giving flesh a kind of purity.”
The forest is not part of the rubble, but contrasts it. Sensually depicted with long shots, non-diegetic bird chirping and still shots of changing tree colors, the psychological rubble is conflicting in comparison. Nature’s redemptive quality ties together aesthetic concerns with ideological assertions, moving beyond Shandley’s 2001 assertion that “rubble films are, on the whole, long on ideological assertions and short on aesthetic ingenuity,” (189) and supports the neo-rubble focus on a revival of reality.
Thomas’ Masculine and Jewish Character
Citing Lutx Koepnick and von Moltke, Fisher suggests that “tales of private friendship and even love between German gentiles and Jews foreground a Germany at stark odds with the Nazi regime and its racist, biopolitical, ultimately genocidal agenda.” (Senses of Cinema, 2017). Not only does Thomas provide ‘Lore’ with an extra layer of personal experience, which creates a sacred space of sexual satisfaction and friendship despite the rubble, but he also occupies a space of the ethnographic ‘Other’ in opposition to the family’s typically Aryan biology and disposition. Thomas’s ‘Otherness’ is established sooner than when we (and Lore) initially see his Judenstern – his ‘performative’ masculinity sets him apart: the first encounter with Thomas, he is judging Lore for her request of the Jewish woman to clean herself before feeding Lore’s baby brother. Thomas’s disapproving gaze makes her lower her eyes and forget the request. Their second encounter, in which he attacks her with the attempt of figuring out what she tore off the wall of pictures, symbolizes the aggressive blame and education of Germans. On their third and final encounter, before Thomas joins the family, he and Lore negotiate their perceived meanings of each other as “Nazi” and “Jew” by humming the same tune. Framed almost like a standoff, the two fixate on the other as both a threat and the problem. Lore is worried that he is a rapist and her humming while holding the baby is motherly, nurturing and based in values of decency and respect. She is holding on to meaning in a world where she has no control. His whistling is sinister because we are not yet aware of his intent, and it is at first non-diegetic, much like the whistling in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). She hums back at him and approaches him almost as a surrender to death in order to hold on to her old values, i.e. her mother telling her to “remember who she is” on a forested path not unlike this one. In this third meeting, the negotiation of meaning comes through the symbolic content of a shared song, and he becomes the redeemer of her Nazi habits. Thomas is integral in Lore’s educational process.
Thomas is notable because he occupies a masculine role – a role more masculine than Lore’s “coward” of a father. According to Fisher’s 2007 article, “On the Ruins of Masculinity”, rubble films emasculate the German man as a reaction to a world where the “Führer ist tot, Lore!”. They do so in such a way that “masculinity was implicated in the devastating destruction” (Hester, 2009). Lore’s Vati is emasculated by his unhealthy appearance, poor relationship with his family, passionate outbursts and also bluntly by his wife, which fulfils this rubble film’s attention to the downfall of the hegemonic Nazi male figure. The acne-faced soldier crying in the truck while the family is escaping to their summer home depicts the boyish image given to German men of a rubble film (Fisher, 2007).
The depiction of Thomas, on the other hand, as both a survivor and the masculine figure, is also the depiction of hope for a future Germany. Like Susan Jeffords portrays in her book The “Remasculization” of Germany in the 1950s, masculinity is not absent from Germany after the war, but rather occupied by outside males who assume the roles of protectors (164). Portraying this point is the scene when Lore decides to proposition a German man to use his boat and yet Thomas ends up rowing her and the family to safety. Lore stumbles upon this Kerl and his boat while he is listening to the radio, and with a heavy accent he implies that he is untergebildet. Next to him, the camera focuses in on a bucket of eels using the sharpness and precision of hyperrealism that Shortland and her production team are known for. Slithering and shiny, they look like a bunch of slimy dicks, which a bucket of fish or crabs wouldn’t have. This makes the scene eckliger, but Thomas killing the Kerl neutralizes the eels – the eels return to their symbolism as the nasty patriarchy of the past, less focused upon by the camera and castrated by the moral righteousness of the present. Despite the foreboding music, nobody is bitten once they take the boat and cross the water. This was a false foreshadowing, which keeps the viewer as naïve as Thomas about the upcoming scene after they are safely across. After Lore offers herself to the Kerl, which causes Thomas to strike him dead, she tries to kill herself, but instead is bathed of her sins in the river and carries on to another survivor camp.
Following Sigmund Freud’s coming-of-age theory known as the ‘Elektra Complex’, this scene can be interpreted as a transition from adolescence, loving the father(land), to adulthood, loving another. Lore’s act of offering herself could be seen as progeny – enacting the traditions of the mother, and perhaps her perceived-values of German women getting raped – and then transferring her trust of the father to a non-kin male in the same milieu – the Kerl. But the scene of Thomas killing the Kerl and her rebirth in the water is also about Lore giving up her ‘father figure’ Nazi ideals and realizing that her parents had been schuldig, and so was she, for doing something immoral to solve a perceived problem. Indignantly, Thomas saves her from suicide and the viewer is confronted by the reality of guilt that Germans were experiencing. He gains empathy for her, despite her continued anti-Semitism; this is enigmatic of a Nachkrieg reconciliation in Germany and throughout Europe. The racism was not gone, it was simply recognized. Complicating the image of Thomas is his habit of stealing and his false papers; though we have seen the tattoo on his arm, we and Lore both consider that he was just using the image of being Jewish to get past the Americans. It is possible that Thomas is a dangerous Kapo. His departure from the movie upon losing his stolen papers switches the role of ‘redeemer’ back to Lore. Her exposure to Thomas helped her reflect on Nazi ideology of good and bad and transition into womanhood, but there was no reconciliation of her sexual demands or her denazification.
Reception of Lore
The reception of Lore confirms its belonging to a neo-rubble genre. As nem baj says on allaboutwarmovies.com, “Lore is both ‘wartime’ and ‘post-war’, that’s a paradox the movie never solves.” Existing within a paradox of unfinished metanarrative Rs (reconciliation, restabilization, redefinition) and finished cinematic Rs (reprivatization), Lore fulfills “The tendency of all [rubble] films to bring the story to the point where the characters can return to ideally constructed private, apolitical lives,” (Shandley, 188). The neo-rubble character exists within its stylization; while post-OM films use politically critical tropes as aesthetic and “shut down discussion about the Nazi past” (ibid.), Lore continues the project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung through the hyperrealistic stylization and extending its storyline into the future. “Lore is an anti-Heimat film that explores the breakdown of such links and experiences of young characters brought up with a Nazi family,” says Roy Stafford of Global Film Studies, “Lore is kind of a modern version of a rural Trümmerfilme. The film narrative is not ‘resolved’ as such,” (2014). When Lore disobeys Omi and proceeds to smash the porcelain figures important to Mama, “The telling of this history is not a one-time project to be completed and left behind,” (ibid.) – cue German punk scene. One must imagine Lore protesting with the 68ers, rather than knowing that her character has been influenced by them via cinematic criticism of the post-OM generation. Shortland’s Lore sets the stage for the neo-rubble genre.