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Cate Shortland interview

Cate Shortland interview

After making a name for herself and her soft, poignant and emotional brand of filmmaking in 2004’s Somersault, Cate Shortland finds herself on the cusp of the national release of her second film, Lore. With a protagonist of a similar age but this time dealing with a completely different context, Lore tells the story of a teenage girl of Nazi parents in the months immediately following the end of World War II. 

Charged with the care of her four younger siblings, Lore must lead the youngsters across Germany to the safety of her aunt’s house. Along the way they encounter the mysterious Thomas who offers to help; he is simultaneously attractive and repelling to Lore in light of his status in her eyes as a Jew. Sensual and beautifully ambiguous, Lore examines the way that we encounter and perceive historical truths, and how we reconcile ourselves with a troubling, confused or abhorrent collective past. 

Last week, Cate spoke to us about her film, the process of its creation, and the ramifications it has for Australia and our history.  

What attracted you to the story of Lore? The Dark Room, the book on which your film is based, is a set of three stories. What was it about the story involving Lore that particularly interested you?

Well I actually argued with the producer, Paul Welsh, because I wanted to do the last story. 

What was the last story about?

The last story was set in the 90s, and it was about a guy that was...thirty something maybe? He was married to a Turkish woman in Berlin, and he discovers that his grandfather was in the Einzatzgruppen, which was the mobile death squads in Belarus, and then he goes to Belarus to find out what had happened. It’s fascinating, it’s great, but it’s really a much easier story because...he’s the good guy, he goes to Belarus and he meets people, and they’re obviously the bad guys...it’s not that much different to what’s been made before. I see that now in retrospect. I think what I was really frightened of with this film, was that we don’t have that division. This one is the toughest one in the book, because the audience has to just look at these people as human beings, and make up their own mind. There’s a big space in the film that we left for the audience to think...we weren’t giving them easy answers. 

How did you deal with that ambiguity? How did you put yourself in the mind frame of these five or six very frightened children whose parents were instrumental in the Nazi campaign, and who now are so confused?  

First of all, we did a lot of research, and I looked at people who had been in Hitler Youth. I had a meeting in Berlin, and we got all these very elderly people that had been children or teenagers in Bund Deutscher Mädel which is League of German Girls, and what we did was we spoke to them really honestly and without judgement and created this environment where they could just talk about what had happened, how they’d felt. There was really strange nostalgia, from a lot of them, because of the music and the dancing. The more we spoke to them, what had really affected them was that, it was just drummed into them that you shouldn’t have empathy. 

It’s such a seminal age for children as well. But your portrayal is not nostalgic in any way...did you strive for the portrayal to be very real? Both Somersault and this film are very sensual; you get a real sense of what it’s like to be in the environment that’s on screen.

Adam Arkapaw, the cinematographer and I, knew that the reason the book worked, and the script, in a way, was because, you don’t see her [Lore] first off as a Nazi. And that’s why I put her in the first scene in the bath. 

Yeah right, she’s a girl first.

She’s a young girl and she’s hearing her sister playing hopscotch. Franz Rodenkirchen who was my script editor, he also said it’s one of the few times in the film where she’s really, completely alone. 

Because it is very much a story about her, as well, as much as it’s about anything else, I think.

It is. I think it’s about her. I really do. I think her trajectory is really clear. She starts off thinking she understands the world, and she never questions it, and that that world’s about sacrifice, and love of the fatherland and love of Hitler, and discipline. And then she realises that everything she believed in is false and, at the end she’s just filled with questions: “who am I? What is my country, what is my life going to be?” 

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