Cate Shortland’s exquisite second feature, her first since her 2004 debut, the cunningly, thrillingly detailed “Somersault,” makes you wonder why we’ve missed two or three Cate Shortland features in the meantime. Australia’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, “Lore” is a brutal yet lyrical coming-of-age story about five German children who scatter across the countryside in the spring of 1945 as the Allied forces claim the country. (“Laura” is the pronunciation of the diminutive of “Hannelore,” the Nazi-indoctrinated teenager’s name.) Shortland’s the sort of filmmaker, you watch a scene unfold and you simply say to yourself, I remember, yes, this is what movies ought to look like, what movies can look like, with casting, color, composition, tempo: they can be tactile, empathetic, empathic, detailed, suggestive, bold, fragile and altogether a thing of life and dream at once. The blue of inked numerals on forearm effaced by tugging down a deep blue wool sleeve; glisten of child’s blue eyes above rudely blushing mouth, ants prickling at vinous red darkened onto a bloodied thigh; figurines emblematic of innocence crushed with grown-ups’ finality: painterly yet photographic conjuring. “Lore” has the weight of particulars as in masterpieces like Andrzej Wajda’s “Ashes and Diamonds.” The world will choke innocence the first chance it gets. Wartime’s only faster. I could go a couple hundred words about lead Saskia Rosendahl’s emotional translucence: Shortland is in thrall to her potential, her simmering consciousness. Adam Arkapaw, whose credits include the brooding, majestic look of David Michôd’s “Animal Kingdom” and the bleak, bursting “Snowtown,” is key to Shortland’s accelerated-decelerated-heartbeat Terrence Malick-scale beauty, more closely tethered to stakes of her characters’ lives and our own dread from historical hindsight than elevated spiritual maunderings. Weather is never just weather, light is never just light. Gorgeous and masterful, “Lore” is pretty close to great. Max Richter’s lovely, anxious, pervasive score is bristling, bursting and bold. Co-written by Robin Mukherjee from the Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, “The Dark Room,” by Rachel Seiffert. With Kai Malina, Nele Trebs, Ursina Lardi, Hans-Jochen Wagner. 108m. (Ray Pride)
“Lore” is now playing at Landmark Century and Renaissance.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.