‘Lore’ tells WWII story through the eyes of a child

We have seen many World War II movies before, and a few such films depicted from the perspective of children. But we’ve never seen one exactly like “Lore,” a story in which the kids themselves are tainted by associations beyond their control.

“Lore” is set in the waning days of the war, and the children in question are the offspring of enthusiastic supporters of Hitler and the Third Reich. Their father is an SS officer, and their mother is even truer to the Nazi cause.

The parents disappear from the movie after 15 minutes, leaving their five children to make their way from the Black Forest to their grandmother’s house in the north of Germany. If you hear an echo of fairy tales in that description, director Cate Shortland would very much like to encourage the association.

The oldest sibling is Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), a 15-year-old poised between gawky girlhood and grown-up curiosity. Now she’s been shoved into the adult role, one she is woefully unprepared for.

The movie is structured as a journey, and it has that suspenseful form in its favor. A note of mystery is added when the siblings run into a wandering young man (Kai Malina) who might be interested in helping them and is definitely interested in Lore.

The emphasis on Lore’s sexual feelings and confusion clearly means a lot to director Shortland, an Australian whose film “Somersault” was a film-festival favorite a few years ago. In fact, Lore’s awakening is truly where the film’s emotional weight lies, more so than any specific WWII-oriented material.

Shortland does well at suggesting that the movie’s sometimes dreamy, hypersensitive feel is probably Lore’s viewpoint coming across. This is not an objective study, but Lore’s overheated perspective.

It’s carefully worked out — in fact I sometimes felt the whole thing was a little too carefully worked out. Shortland’s effects are maybe overly calculated, which leaves the movie not quite breathing on its own.

“Lore” has an evocative musical score by Max Richter, and it rests easily on the shoulders of Saskia Rosendahl, whose first film this is. She comes across as strong enough to lead the children across half of Germany, but young enough to be completely wrong in her prejudices and instincts.

Having loyal Nazi parents has left her without a gyroscope in a world that offers new information about their beliefs and the Reich’s atrocities, and she believably, and understandably, spins out of control.

“Lore” (3 stars)

A World War II story told from the perspective of children whose loyal Nazi parents have left them stranded on a journey through Germany. The movie’s at least as much about a 15-year-old girl’s adult awakening as it is about the war, and its effects might be overcalculated, but there’s still suspense involved. In German, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, violence.

Showing: Harvard Exit.

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