First published on 9 Aug 2012. Updated on 28 Aug 2012.
Australian director Cate Shortland arrived with a big arthouse bang in 2004 with gritty coming-of-age story Somersault – winner of 13 AFI Awards and the movie that launched Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington into the international film firmament.
On the surface, her long-awaited follow-up, Lore, is a complete departure – a drama set in war-torn Germany – and yet they are both loss-of-innocence odysseys. Somersault’s teenage Heidi, oversexed and underloved, travels to snow country and spirals out of control. Lore is also a blonde, Germanic girl on a desperate journey, and also making disturbing discoveries about her sexual magnetism.
“It’s coincidence,” Shortland counters. “Heidi can’t articulate what she is feeling, whereas Lore is articulating propaganda, and in that way they’re quite different. Lore is quite strong and a leader, and Heidi was a real follower.”
As Allied troops roll across Germany and the war in Europe comes to a close, young Hannelore Dressler (Saskia Rosendahl) must lead her four younger siblings across a ruined nation to find safety at her aunt’s house in Hamburg.
Lore and the children encounter starvation, vengeful invading forces and victims of rape. “It would have been unrealistic that the kids travelled through a post-war landscape and not come across people that have been sexually abused,” Shortland notes.
Perhaps most traumatic of all comes the realisation that that the philosophy they have based their lives on – National Socialism – is genocidal, their beloved Führer a monster. “The kids had been born into it,” says Shortland, who is Jewish and spent many harrowing hours researching. “The kids would have never had a Christian Christmas, they would have always had a socialist Christmas.”
So why has it taken so long for Shortland to make her second feature? “After Somersault, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to make films anymore. I wanted to do different things with my life and to take a break.” After two different friends urged her to read Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room she realised she had her next feature project. “I moved to Germany for a couple of years with my family; the kids went to German schools. I have had a very inspiring, collaborative time working in two cultures.”
Along with the language barrier, a major challenge was working with a main cast under the age of 15. “You can only shoot four hours a day – we had to shoot a hell of a lot in a short amount of time,” she says. “Actually with kids, I found it easier than I’d imagined. Adults are always questioning the director and saying ‘I don’t think my character would do that’. Whereas with the kids, you’d say, ‘I think you’re going to do this,’ and they go, ‘OK.’ They’d just try it.”
And does Shortland feel any pride about the careers of Cornish and Worthington? “It’s been great, really fantastic how well they’ve both done. I’m actually working with Sam at the moment on a television thing and he’s exactly the same person that he was. It hasn’t gone to his head in any way, which is really great.”
Lore screens from Sep 20.