“Lore” is both gripping and suffocating; at times it feels like filmmaker Cate Shortland is forcibly prying open your eyelids like that scene in “A Clockwork Orange,” impelling the viewer to confront the horror of what’s happening on screen. And that’s because feeling the unbearable heaviness of reality is what “Lore” is all about.

The year is 1945, and we meet a Nazi family. The Allied Forces have begun their sweep through Germany. The mother of the house (Ursina Lardi) is frantically burning papers while trying to stuff valuables into a bag. The father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) has turned into a dithering idiot, ready to run out the door and abandon his family. Fourteen-year old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) observes her parents and the swastika flag rumpled on the floor, and draws the conclusion that she has been cheated. The Nazis are not the superheroes she had been raised to believe. Then what were they?

While there are films galore about the Third Reich and its victims, it’s very rare to see one that deals with the families of Nazis, and the fate that awaited them after the surrender. Lore’s parents are arrested and taken away, leaving her to contend with her four siblings, one of whom is a baby. Their only chance of survival is to reach their grandmother’s place in Hamburg, though between Lore’s family and her grandmother lies a history of political disagreement and estrangement.

Lore (Sayonara, Adolf)
Director Cate Shortland
Run Time 109 minutes
Language German, English (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Opens Jan. 11, 2014

Lying to her siblings that their parents are waiting for them, Lore takes them off on a 900-km hike through the Black Forest. She’s determined to strip herself of the Nazi agitprop she has been fed all her life, but also aware that now there’s nothing to support her morale or justify her decisions.

“Lore” is rife with irony — not least of all because the golden goddess-like Lore and her entire family look straight out of a Nazi propaganda poster. No doubt Hitler himself would cite them as the very example of Aryan supremacy.

After Lore takes flight, though, that supremacy is dragged into the mud. Her thin dress and fashionable shoes are no match for the Black Forest terrain. She’s wildly scared, hungry and drenched from rain. And she can’t shake off the images from the photos of extermination camps, distributed to the Germans by American soldiers, in which she saw men in Nazi uniforms (the same as her father’s) and the ground piled high with dead bodies, many of them children. Her mind spirals into denial while at the same time pushing her to the cliff-edge of breakdown.

There’s also the presence of a young Jewish man (Kai Malina) who offers to help Lore on the journey to Hamburg, adding to her confusion with his dark handsomeness and mysterious ulterior motive. Lore feels the awakenings of first love and sexual urges, but pragmatism wins out. In order to reach Hamburg, any aid from a dependable male is like a gift from heaven. And Lore discovers soon enough that being Jewish now carries a huge cachet — in dramatic contrast to just a few months ago.

The movie’s setting may be historical, but its message is timeless. Whenever we buy unquestioningly into propaganda, we’re laying the groundwork for not only government-instigated atrocity but also a violent wake-up call that could shatter us beyond recovery.

When this review was first published, we incorrectly listed the language as English. The film is in German with some English, subtitled in Japanese.

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