May, 1945. As the Third Reich collapses, a high-ranking SS officer and his family flee from the Allied armies. When mom and dad are captured and sent to prison, five kids, led by teenaged Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), are left to fend for themselves. So they set off from Bavaria to Hamburg, where their grandmother lives.
Raised as good little Hitler Youth, these youngsters one of them an infant cannot possibly believe that the Final Victory hasnt been achieved, with the Nazis emerging victorious. But as they travel across the defeated, battle-scarred land, they soon come to realize that they have become just a small part of the sea of displaced persons the war has created.
Begging for food, hiding from American and Russian soldiers, fending off men who want to use them sexually, the group trudges onward. Then they meet up with Thomas (Kai Malina), a Jew who attaches himself to their party, and whose survival skills are greater than theirs.
This sets up an interesting conundrum. The kids have been taught that Jews are the scum of the earth, and Lore in particular wants nothing to do with Thomas. But as they travel onward, the younger children form a real attachment to him. And as they encounter other refugees and manage to see pictures posted by the Allies of what liberated death camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald looked like, Lore starts to get a more nuanced feel for who her parents are and what they supported. By the end of the film, she has become a changed person.
Theres no doubt director Cate Shortland an Australian, no less has taken on an offbeat subject, although several recent documentaries have dealt with the legacy of Nazi war criminals and how it has affected their families. Yet even though Lore is a totally professional piece of work, beautifully shot and well acted, it is never as emotionally affecting as it could be. Thats because Shortland has handled the material in a very impressionistic manner there isnt a lot of dialogue, it is languidly paced, and scenes of the children trudging through forests and meadows are often intercut with shots of pristine nature and local animal life. Its as if Shortland were consciously imitating Terrence Malicks filmmaking style without the incessant New Age-y voiceovers.
Despite this, Lore leaves you questioning what will happen to these kids. Its not their fault they were raised the way they were, but the film leaves you wondering if, like Lore, they will be able to break from their past. And as I watched, I couldnt help thinking about the infant daughter of deceased alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. What will she grow up to be? And what kind of world will she grow up in? If nothing else, Lore reminds us that children are not responsible for the sins of their parents.