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HomeAwardsContender – Best Foreign Film, Lore

Contender – Best Foreign Film, Lore

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Cate Shortland

An interesting cross-cultural phenomenon of this award season is Australia’s entry into the best foreign language film Oscar competition: The World War II-drama Lore. That’s “Lore” in German, as in “Laurie,” or a similar name, and not the English “lore,” as in a story. And while it’s not surprising that an English-speaking country would still make films about the 20th century’s most traumatic war, what is surprising is that this Australian film was not only set in Germany, but shot entirely in German as well. Strictly speaking, it’s an Australian/German co-production. But it’s already contending in Australia – recently nominated for its version of the Oscars, scoring eight nominations, including best picture, direction, adapted screenplay and production design, among others, from the Australian Academy of Cinema.

Director Cate Shortland was in town recently to promote the film, a tale set in the immediate aftermath of the war, as the children of a captured SS man and his wife must make their way on foot across a shattered landscape to a dimly-remembered grandmother’s house. Shortland had been drawn to author Rachel Seiffert’s novel since the author became the youngest person to be nominated for a Booker Prize. The book was also in English, but when the decision was made to translate the screenplay and shoot in German, with German actors, Shortland also found herself presiding over a mixed Aussie and German crew.

“One of the great joys was working with the designers,” Shortland said, citing, in particular, production designer Silke Fischer and costume designer Stefanie Beiker. She also noted that she had to give over to the  German crew-heads’ way of working. Her DP, gaffer, key grip and others were from Australia though. “They’re used to running things like an army,” she said. The Germans, Shortland said, were entirely relaxed, in terms of working hours and overall demeanor on the set. “It drives the Australians crazy,” she laughed.

On the set of Lore.

German production rules also mandate two first AD’s on set: one to coordinate with the producer, and the other to fill more traditional AD duties with the cast. That tended to an un-relaxed aspect of the German set, as the two AD’s sometimes took to arguing. “I had to float above it,” Shortland said.

And yet the film doesn’t rise above anything, but rather gets deep into the nitty gritty of what she describes as a “Nazi fairy tale.” As the children, trying to resist the dawning truth about their parents, and Germany itself, must trek through the Black Forest, the story is told mostly in tight shots and close-ups. This came, in part, from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who is Russian by way of Australia, and said he never had any idea of covering a scene. Everything was done very intimately, and shot in 16mm, to boot. “We didn’t want it to look really crisp,” she said. Indeed, they were going for a more contemporaneous look, as if the film could’ve been shot in the mid-40’s.

And the film, despite being an intimate character study, almost has the structure of a suspense thriller in some scenes, especially when bodies are suddenly discovered in some of the ruins where they take refuge. Shortland credits her DP for the idea that the audience shouldn’t see something before Lore does. But, of course, the audience does finally see what Lore does: the truth about her country and her parents. Shortland recalled the German crew crying, while shooting some of the film’s key moments. The production also had to use doubles constantly given that the leads were all children.

“What would you like us to show them?” Shortland recalls asking of the parents of the young actors. And while the director thought the children already seemed to know a surprising amount about their country’s past, the parents replied “Everything – show them everything.” And she has by directing a cast and crew in a “foreign language” different than her own.

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