Tag Archives: film distribution

Lore (Australia/Germany/UK 2012)

Lore

Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) and her siblings with Thomas (Kai Molina) in the background. (Image courtesy Artificial Eye)

It’s only March but here is one of the films of the year in the UK. Lore is a profoundly German story based on a British novel and brought to the screen by Australian director Cate Shortland with a German cast and a mixed Australian/German crew. The film was shot across various locations in Germany by the Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw using Super 16mm. Dialogue is in German with English subtitles.

Rachel Seifert’s novel The Dark Room (2001) comprises three separate stories each of which refers to the impact of the rise and fall of the Nazis in Germany on the personal lives of young characters. ‘Lore’ (short for Hannelore) is one of the three stories/characters. Ms Seifert wrote the stories when she was still relatively young, attracting immediate attention and a Booker nomination. Her parents are German and Australian and this resonated with Cate Shortland who is married to a German. Shortland wrote the script with Robin Mukherjee, a film and TV writer with experience of stories about children.

Lore is older in the film than in the book as far as I can see. I think she is 16 in the film, though she appears both older and younger in this powerful story. It begins in May 1945 at the end of the war in Germany. Lore is the eldest of five children and her father, a German officer, has returned from the East. The family must flee as the Russians are coming from the East and the Americans from the West. The family reach a country house in Southern Germany, but first the father and then the mother effectively disappear, taken by, or surrendering to, American forces. Lore is left with the responsibility of taking her siblings, including a baby, across defeated Germany, through difficult terrain and across the zones controlled by American, Russian and British troops to her grandmother’s house on an isolated part of the North Sea coast. I’m not sure that geographical accuracy is a crucial element of the journey, but we know that it is a long way and that it is a difficult journey. Not surprisingly Lore learns a lot about herself on the journey. Her younger sister and the twin 8 year-old boys are not really able to help her much.

Lore begins her journey as the daughter of a leading Nazi soldier and the one ‘friend’ she makes on the journey is ‘Thomas’, a young man who might be Jewish. I don’t want to spoil the narrative so I won’t refer to specific events, but Lore is forced to confront many difficult questions and she is a changed young woman who arrives at grandmother Omi’s house. Powerful filmmaking like this depends on both great direction and performances. Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Molina are excellent, the casting throughout works very well and especially for the group of children who are the main focus for much of the film. The Press Book (available from the Artificial Eye website) gives some useful background on how the film was made. Much of it was shot in Eastern Germany with ruined houses and landscapes of forests and meadows beautifully presented. The cinematography adds to this with its soft textures in Super 16 and the light and mists of morning and the gloom of forests. The press images don’t really do justice to the landscape and mise en scène of the interiors but the official trailer gives glimpses.

I found this imagery and also elements of the story made me think of other films, for example Katalin Varga  another film in which a mother and son take a journey across the landscapes of Transylvania. After the screening, discussing the film with a friend, we both thought of the German concept of ‘Heimat’ that almost indefinable sense of a German attachment to ‘home’/’homeland’. Edgar Reitz made a famous series of films under the title of Heimat from 1984 onwards and indeed there is a genre of German cinema called Heimatfilm which was important in the early 1950s in particular – often set around rural communities with a focus on landscape and folkloric traditions. Heimat was a concept that encapsulated ideas about identity that were corrupted by Nazi ideology in relation to ‘blood and soil’ and ‘Aryan purity’. In that sense, Lore is an anti-Heimatfilm that explores the breakdown of such links and the experiences of young characters brought up within a Nazi family and now facing postwar reality. There is also a German film genre known as Trümmerfilme or ‘rubble films’, a kind of German film noir focusing on the dramas of lives in the rubble of German cities in the immediate post-war years. Most of them were made between 1946 and 1949. The most famous of these in international cinema is ironically a film made by Roberto Rossellini, Germany Year Zero (Italy 1948). As the entry in The Encyclopedia of European Cinema (ed. Ginette Vincendeau, 1995) points out, these films often featured narratives in which the legacy of Nazi ideology played a significant role. Those made in the DDR (East Germany) had specific anti-fascist messages, e.g.  The Murderers Are Amongst Us (DDR, 1946). In this context, Lore is a kind of modern version of a rural Trümmerfilme. The film narrative is not ‘resolved’ as such but we are clear that there must have been many teenagers like Lore who grew up in a domestic sphere, confident about their own future only to find themselves confronted with a very different world.

Lore‘s success in only limited distribution has prompted the British Film Institute to award the first funding offer under the new ‘Sleeper’ strand of its Distribution funding screen. £40,000 is available to help Artificial Eye to release the film in ten further cinemas. This funding is only available to distributors who are ‘invited’ to receive it because the film has had good reviews and good box office response on opening. This ‘responsive funding’ is now easier to make work with digital distribution since copies of new ‘prints’ are much easier and cheaper to get to cinemas. However, it is still the case that there aren’t enough screens on which to show films like this. So, please watch out for Lore coming your way – it’s a film not be missed!

Hollywood squeezing out specialised films?

Last week in the foyer of a specialised cinema I stumbled over a large standalone promotion for the new Meryl Streep film Doubt. About 8ft high, 4 ft wide and 18 ins deep, the cardboard construction struck me as physical evidence of what’s been happening to specialised cinemas in the UK. I won’t name the cinema since I’m sure the situation has been forced on them  – and anyway, something similar is happening across the country.

Since the start of the year, it has been difficult to find new foreign language films on any kind of significant release (i.e. more than 20 screens across the UK). I’ve seen one film in the French Institute and half a dozen booked for my own courses and events. I’ve also been to a special event on Cuban Cinema, but in the general film programme the films with subtitles that I’ve seen have all been UK/US productions (Defiance, Slumdog Millionaire and Che). The screens I would have visited are filled with other American product – The Wrestler, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon and now Doubt. These films are all showing in multiplexes, so why are they on specialised screens as well? As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that they are ‘art films’ as such. To turn it round the other way, what should have been an important release – Tokyo Sonata, a Cannes prizewinner with a growing critical reputation, opened on just three prints. The only foreign language opening (discounting Hindi and Tamil films) with more than three prints has been A Christmas Tale with seven.

In these circumstances, cinemas have no choice but to put on the American films. OK, it’s all about getting Oscar-nominated films in front of the public, but this doesn’t wash. Where is Laurent Canet’s The Class? It is scheduled to open after the Oscar ceremony on February 27. My only other hope is Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad and the Weird – a film I’m looking forward to seeing soon. This looks like a wide release – into multiplexes. I’m trying to find out if all the prints are subtitled.

So, am I getting paranoid? I don’t think so. True there are more foreign language films getting a release in the UK now, but when you investigate, it’s only one or two prints in order to bolster the DVD release. I don’t have anything against the so-called American ‘independents’, except that most of them aren’t – and they are crowding out what I want to watch.