Yes: this is the absurdity of Lore.
Writer/Director: Cate Shortland
Co-writer: Robin Mukherjee
Lore: Saskia Rosendahl
Peter: Nick Holaschke
What It's Good For:
-examination of post-WWII German angst
-wartime coming-of-age tale
-exploration of adolescent sexuality
-gruesome, brooding imagery, shot selection, and dialogue
-great performance from Saskia Rosendahl
-[obligatory foreign movie warning]
-extremely pessimistic and dark
-I believe the MPAA calls it "suggestive sexuality"
Looking at this opening sequence, we can note several instances where Shortland is clearly manipulating the aura—which, again, isn't exactly a bad thing. Lore is all about loss, abandonment, and living in the shadow of one's family and nationalism. In addition, Lore discovers and explores the emotions associated with these themes by trudging through the forest, searching for food and constantly remaining in fear of being shot by army personnel. This shit is dark and intense, and Shortland has no intentions of allowing anything but distress to settle in. So as Lore tugs at her hair, this discomfort is forming. Her mother claws at her sleeve and struggles with her bra strap; her brother trips over the last step and spills papers all over the floor; her father grips his suitcase tight as he smokes. All of these shots are met with extreme close-ups. These menacing tight shots are constricting and intend to create a claustrophobic feeling, amplifying the sound of a hand wrapping around leather to ridiculous levels—much like how Argo chose to build tension in its airport scene. All of the action is inherently intense in its own right, but Shortland is cranking this shit to 11.
In addition to it all: we're in the dark so far. What's going on? We will find out, but for now, rapid-fire succession and close-ups revealing skin pores are dictating a sense of hurried angst and despair. Shortland wants to make you uncomfortable, but for what? Isn't this empty intensity without exposition?
Breaking Dawn Part 2 makes a more adept use of this technique, as Bella begins the film testing her new vampire powers. She's gaining knowledge of her newly enhanced senses, ludicrously augmenting the sounds and feelings associated. Suddenly Kristen Stewart biting her lip expels a tiny click; her nostrils flare with her heightened sense of smell; her hairs slowly lift off her arm in the breeze and make a sound of rustling branches. All of these overtly intense methods are building towards one realization: her thirst for blood dominates. Breaking Dawn Part 2 is all about Bella's newly found powers and how she deals with them. The difference between Lore and Twilight is that director Bill Condon knows when to step back.
After Germany loses the war, Lore and her family are forced to burn their identities and flee their expensive home. Instead of allowing the intensity of her family's situation to settle and take its psychological toll, Shortland barrels forward with the jump cuts and ominous tone, continuing to fixate on abruptly interrupting sobering moments with the chop-chop of wood, deliberately awkward hands frantically fumbling with money, and, wow are you kidding me, some more tripping over and dropping of shit. While Lore remains consistently intense energetic throughout, Shortland is never able to enhance the sheer discomfort of the family's crippling new lifestyle because every situation's aura replicates the frantic nature of the opening scene.
If discomfort is the only motive, then it's an entirely different discussion. But as Shortland continues to expand her themes, exploring the idea of Lore recreating her family's past mistakes and discovering her sexuality, the form disallows any emotion to sufficiently dominate (or even balance out) the pestering nature of the daily grind. I do believe Lore has intentions beyond creating discomfort, rendering the incessant attentiveness to extraneous props and constantly shaking camera rather inconsequential and incongruent with the film's heart.
Final Destination 5 a glorious example of utilizing this technique for psychological peril and embracing the absurd. In typical Final Destination fashion, the intense focus on unfortunate mechanical failures that off the various characters is in full force: the clink and clank of insufficient gears; the spilling of coffee that drips and short-circuits an appliance; the loaded gun that is slowly heating up on a burning stove. Yet, there's a contextual relationship between these props' presence and the emotional core of the film. Veering off from the typically repetitious, eye-rolling nature of the Final Destination death scenes, the stagnant work life of Final Destination 5 dominates outside of the slow-burning bloodbaths, correlating the life-draining dormancy of pushing papers with death of divine order. It's a powerful statement about the misdirection and aimlessness of a generation searching for identity in the workplace, and never once does it sacrifice the tick-tock precision and build of its death scenes by juxtaposing them with the same level of intensity in everyday tasks—life slows down, relationships settle in and find their footing, and the core premise of the film is allowed to build on itself.
Sometimes Shortland's craft is beneficial, such as the moments where Lore fiddles with her mother's ring, paralleling the fiercely implacable relationship between mother and father with Lore and Peter (Nick Holaschke). The moment she gives away the ring is a moment where she believes she is physically abandoning her mother's influence, and it recalls the relevant and psychological use of props in Final Destination 5. All at once, the constricting nature of Shortland's camerawork gains meaning, balancing discomfort with a loving moment of hereditary reprisal that can be correlated with Germany's irrational hatred of the Jews and give depth to Lore's relationship with Peter (whom she believes to be Jewish).
But these moments are few and far between. None of Shortland's obvious moments of psychology are useless, such as a shot of scattered broken eggs in the field are meant to reflect a miniature beleaguered version of Lore and her siblings as they search for food. But the constant state of apprehensiveness is more intent on relishing in peril and disgust than allowing the characters to develop through such filth—brilliant snapshots of grimness that never come to fruition. Shots such as the broken eggs are haphazardly inserted, coming and going as quickly as one of Shortland's many moments of unsubstantial imagery: constant, shakily shot close-ups of the flowers on Lore's dress, a suitcase and its clothing strewn about a field, etc. The flowers signify innocence in the face of turmoil and survival, and the strewn clothes represent abandonment of material possessions—all of these shots contain their own symbolic meaning within the moment, but sharing both mood and placement in relation to the more important pieces of imagery throughout the film, fixation on claustrophobia becomes their unification—not the psychology of the characters. And considering claustrophobia is a very psychological condition, the unrelenting use of the camera techniques it presents is exploitative for all of the wrong reasons.
Building off that: can a single happy moment exist without the shadow of Adolf Hitler towering overhead? Lore and her sister gleefully run through the field, but it doesn't last more than a few seconds before sinister music settles in and red flakes (reminiscent of the blood spilled in WWII) float through the air. They stop, look up in awe and fear, and then soon there's a mid-section shot of Lore (a classic horror technique) peering out through the shadows. And this stare just wouldn't be completely bonkers and out-of-place until she eerily creeps backwards into the dark nothingness.
Lore races to her mother to say goodbye, and it's greeted with nothing but an intense, tension-building stare of understanding that cannot stop being melodramatic for one fucking second in order to capture Lore's troubles as a budding adolescent. Not that I need every film to reflect the perfect world of, say, Whisper of the Heart, but at what point does any of this treacherousness make a point that isn't opaque and frustratingly broad?
Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is an example of a taking the delicate approach. Certainly not in terms of its ferocious central character, but in terms of style, aura, and mood. There Will Be Blood is a brooding take on an idea Lore wishes to explore, which is the constant denial of one's past until it can no longer be avoided. Lore ends with Lore smashing deer figurines, which themselves represent Lore's innocence before fleeing her home and shifting into survival mode. Lore's smashing of the tiny deer figurines is an act of self-release, denying the power her mother held over her, along with the inherent hatred that led to her fucked up relationship with Peter and its bitter end. There Will Be Blood protagonist Daniel Plainview shares a similarly crashing end to his arc when he smashes Eli's head in with a bowling pin. When comparing narrative structure, Daniel's bowling alley excursion is on the same psychological scale as Lore's. As their contempt for humanity is tested through familial relations, they both build towards and peak with a self-realizations that ensure their much needed solitude.
Alas, another crazy comparison with Lore falls through the cracks. Whereas There Will Be Blood owns discipline, Lore is the bratty child that screams until he/she is satisfied. The skull-crushing moment that concludes Blood is an earned one, much like Lore's melodramatic smashing of figurines, but in terms of atmosphere it exists on a plane of its own. Daniel's moment is abrupt and encompasses the entire build-up of its two inhabitants—Eli's faith is put into question, and in the long bowling alley with background in focus, the pinnacle of Daniel's quest for wealth is pit against such adherence to faith. Eli screams into the room, pronouncing "God is a superstition!" and all of this plays directly into their tried relationship and tests their morals.
The wide shots and elongated discussions of faith correlate with the rest of the film, but imagine if the entirety of There Will Be Blood was dominated by the frantic nature of Daniel's chasing of Eli. Would that moment contain the same spark of exhilaration or bite of crudeness? Of course not. In terms of narration, this moment disrupts the status quo and allows all of its themes and motifs and character dynamics to come crashing down all at once.
As Lore smashes those figurines, I can't help but feel a certain coldness. This could, in fact, be the intention. Perhaps we are expected to feel the same sense of soullessness as Lore, completely and utterly lost and abandoned in a world that's taught nothing but hatred and spite. But then the entirety of Lore would suddenly blend together, and those humanistic moments involving the ring and the eggs would all reflect the same mood. I'd like to think that Shortland wishes to extract a sense beyond angst in her quieter moments, such as when Lore beckons Peter to reach up her skirt in a moment of sexual exploration. It's a wonderful moment that recalls an earlier scene involving her father and mother, only this time the man is the denier. This scene is cold, longing, and tragic all at once...and it carries the same gravity as when Lore abruptly turns to her sister during an argument and says:
"Scratch all your skin off until you're only a heap of blood and bones."
Talk about melodramatic...
But, at the same time: talk about disappointing. Since when is such a dynamite line rendered so useless? So inconsequential? So incredibly in line with every spiteful sentence uttered from these beleaguered characters' mouths?
At one point a man tells Lore she "smells like death." If you ask me, the entirety of Lore reeks of death and despair every bit as much. It's another moment that tests both Lore's morality and sexuality, yet it's another moment that carries the same aura as her father executing the family dog. There's no shame in replicating the mood and techniques utilized by goofy B-horror films, slow-burning freak accidents, and callous character studies in greed and alienation—but what's in question here is the discipline behind the shots. Despite an absurd, elongated build-up to the film's final moments, Lore's version of "I'm finished!" is yet another cold, dead stare from Lore.
Did I Like It:
Sure. I just really couldn't stand the relentlessly ominous tone. This isn't one of those lame reviews where the guy who gets paid $60,000 a year to say, "How am I supposed to care about these characters?!" I cared about them. Deeply. I think Lore is a tragic figure and this is a great twist on the coming-of-age formula. The screenplay is wonderful, but technically I think the film missteps. There needs to be balance and tonal shifts—otherwise the cathartic moments share (on a technical level) the same propensity and connotation.
Kudos to Rosendah. She rocks it. I'm excited to see what else Shortland produces. She's definitely got a great eye for shots. I just think the entirety of the shot selection overall needs to improve.
But what the fuck do I know. Just go see Lore.