Interview: Lore, dir Cate Shortland
After being nominated for Best Film at the 56th BFI London Film Festival last year, Cate Shortland’s Lore will be released in UK cinemas this week. Set immediately after the fall of Nazi Germany, the film follows the children of Nazi Party members, who must journey across the country to the safety of their grandmother’s house.
The eldest child is 14-year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), who becomes the sole carer of her younger siblings when the children are left to fend for themselves. Their journey is extremely dangerous and it seems impossible that they will reach their destination unharmed. However, a mysterious young man named Thomas (Kai Malina) soon appears and takes care of the family. Suspecting certain things about Thomas’ background, Lore attempts to reject his help, but gradually begins to question everything she had once believed to be true.
After talking to lead actor Saskia Rosendahl in October 2012, BEVer Sonia Zadurian spoke to Cate about adapting Seiffert’s critically acclaimed novel, working with the young cast on particularly sensitive material and searching for the perfect Lore.
BEV: What drew you to the source material? And how did you go about adapting it?
CS: The book by Rachel Seiffert is three novellas. Paul Welsh [producer] gave me the book at the Edinburgh Film Festival and told me he wanted to do the middle one. Then I read it and said, ‘why don’t we do the last novella?’ About Michael, who is a 35 year-old man, a teacher in Berlin now, who is married to a Turkish woman. And he goes in search of what his grandfather has done. And it was a far more familiar story about the holocaust, because you have this good character searching for the truth. And Paul said ‘no, we have to do the hardest story. We have to do the one that hasn’t been told before’. Then we worked with Robin Mukherjee on two drafts and I wanted to take over the writing because as a female somehow, with a female lead, I wanted to be inside her and see everything from her perspective.
I then worked with an amazing script editor in Berlin. What was really beautiful was we’d talk about things like the connection of erotica to death and all of these issues that were not so much in the source material, but we were thinking about them. That really influenced the adaptation. So he was a total gift because he’s such a free thinker, and he’s very amoral and non-judgemental, so that’s how we kind of came at the film.
The film is extremely cinematic and key scenes, particularly featuring Lore and Thomas, are often communicated with very little dialogue. How did you approach these sequences?
Well it was that thing about the connection between sex and death that we felt was almost the heart of that relationship; this very strange attraction. It was crystallized in the scene where Thomas kills the fisherman. The other thing we had to look at, which was equally important, was the fact that this 14-year-old girl has grown up knowing nothing outside National Socialism, nothing outside of indoctrination. She starts the film as a complete absolutist and ends in a place of questioning and ambiguity.
Can you describe how you worked with Saskia?
We had three weeks rehearsal. Saskia and I would have days with Kai Malina on our own. We would talk about everything and do a lot of improvisation. Saskia is a trained dancer and I think that has also been really integral to that performance, because she has massive internal strength. Really physically dynamic and then she has to contain that all and be really still. I feel like you feel her power even when she’s incredibly still. That combination was absolutely perfect for the character.
How did you go about casting the lead actors?
We worked with Jacqueline Rietz, who’s the biggest children’s casting agent in Germany. We didn’t have much money but Jacqueline, and a couple of the people working with her, went to all the major cities and looked at about 300 girls. We still hadn’t found the right girl in the last week before we were meant to start rehearsals. We had a meeting and they were trying to force me to take different people, because we’d run out of money and I just said ‘no we can’t, we have to wait and get the right person’. Then we met Saskia and we did an all day casting with about five girls. They’d come in at different times and work with Kai. Towards the end of the day, Saskia grabbed hold of his shirt and screamed into his face and he dragged her across the floor and we all burst into tears.
How did you go about working with some of the younger children on set?
We gave the script to their parents and asked the parents what they could have an understanding of and what they couldn’t within the script. Their parents said that they should understand everything. They didn’t have to understand the intricacies of the Holocaust, but they had to understand indoctrination and what that meant. When we started working with them, we worked by singing a lot of national socialist songs. We had horrendous story books where the Jewish characters rape children and these were the government issued books that went to all German children.
We worked on dancing, eye contact and their posture… they watched lots of documentaries with first person testimonies of elderly people that had been in the Hitler Youth and Bund Deutscher Mädel, and that really helped them to understand. It was like a subtle layering. You couldn’t bombard them with too much. The other thing we really had to work on in rehearsals was them trusting each other, having fun together and feeling like they were a cohesive group.
What advice would you give to women just starting out in film? In front of, or behind the camera?
I’d give the same advice to men as I’d give to women, which is to be really brave and do things that frighten you. Try to stay true to your vision and your dream.
Lore is released in UK cinemas 22 February. To take a look at the trailer, click here.