Tag Archives: B-

LORE

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Australian writer-director Cate Shortland’s second feature offers a World War II story, based on a portion of Rachel Seiffert’s, that has a perspective different from the usual ones. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is a German teenager living with her family—parents Peter (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Asti (Ursina Lardi), younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs) twin brothers Jurgen (Mika Seidel) and Gunther (Andre Frid) and baby Peter—in the waning days of the conflict. As Allied forces move into Germany from both east and west and the Third Reich crumbles, Peter, an SS officer, is busily burning his files before going off to fight (and, presumably, die), and Asti is packing up whatever her suitcases will accommodate.

After Peter departs, Asti decides to leave as well, on her own—instructing Lore to care for the younger children and, if need be, take them to Hamburg, where their grandmother lives, via train. But when it becomes necessary for her to do so, she finds that the trains have been taken over by the occupiers, and so begins a long trek by land with Liesel, Jurgen, Gunther and Peter in tow.

Virtually all of the film’s remainder is an account of their journey, during which they occasionally stop to ask for food or shelter—one interlude is with an older woman half-mad with depression, bemoaning the fact that the people weren’t loyal enough to the now-dead Hitler—but Lore’s fascist indoctrination becomes clear as well when the little troupe join forces with Thomas (Kai Malina), a young man traveling alone. Thomas bears identification papers that bear the star of David although he looks suspiciously fit for one who claims to have been liberated from Auschwitz. Nonetheless Lore accepts him companionship and help in stealing supplies, though she insists on keeping her distance and makes her anti-Semitism clear.

Of course, the trek has its share of crises—encounters with desperate survivors who pose a real threat, a ride with a group of American soldiers, a suspenseful train ride, a tragedy that causes tension between Lore and Thomas—and it effects a transformation in Lore, who by the time she reaches Hamburg has lost much of her old certainty about things. But the film doesn’t overplay the changes; even in the closing scenes it refuses to opt for the sort of bittersweet uplift one might expect.

Rather “Lore” moves ahead slowly and haltingly to an ambiguous close, keeping its focus narrowly on the children and portraying events from the perspective from the perspective of the young girl burdened with responsibilities beyond what should be expected of one her age and with the ideological remnants of the regime she grew up under—and which her parents had completely embraced. Shortland and co-writer Robin Mukherjee work on a relatively small scale, concentrating on vignettes that suggest the larger picture of a devastated land and a demoralized population still forlornly in the thrall of a defeated dictatorship. Even cinematographer Adam Arkapaw follows their lead, framing images that take advantage of the narrative’s mostly-forested locales but employ overpowering close-ups to convey a feeling of claustrophobia even in the outdoors. And while some of the adult supporting cast offer sharply observed turns, only Rosendahl really invests her character with a substantial degree of complexity.

The result is a film that’s remarkable for its unusual perspective and its intense portrayal of a society reeling from defeat and disillusionment, but one that never manages to connect emotionally as deeply as it might. While admirable for refusing to treat its atypical story in the obvious fashion, “Lore” doesn’t find an alternative that’s entirely successful.

QUARTET

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An old folks’ movie in terms of both its characters and its intended audience, Dustin Hoffman’s first completed directorial effort (he started “Straight Time” in 1978 but was replaced by Ulu Grosbard) can be thought of as this year’s version of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”—except that the locale is a British retirement home for elderly musicians and the emphasis is more on the humorous side, though sentimentality is hardly in short supply. “Quartet” is actually pretty thin stuff, but it’s been cannily cast for maximum effect, and Hoffman gives the actors plenty of room to do their thing, aided by Barney Pilling’s editing, which keeps the pace to a stroll.

Beecham House—named after Sir Thomas Beecham, the famously eccentric English conductor—is a lovely rural estate that’s been transformed into a domicile where over-the-hill orchestral and operatic performers can spend their golden years in relative comfort and comradeship. As the script, adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own play, begins, the emphasis is on three residents who are old pals who sang together on stage. The sparkplug is Wilf (Billy Connolly), who seizes on the excuse of a minor stroke to say whatever he likes whenever he chooses, including making semi-comic romantic advances to the home’s attractive young doctor (Sheridan Smith). Wilf’s closest friend is Reginald (Tom Courtenay), a restrained, staid fellow who enjoys holding classes to introduce opera to students more interested in hip-hop. And hovering around them both is Cissy (Pauline Coffins), a charmingly daffy lady who used to perform with them both.

Their delicate balance is abruptly altered with the arrival of Jean (Maggie Smith), a former prima donna who performed regularly with the trio but whose brief marriage to Reginald—which ended in her quick infidelity—has left him wounded and angry. A good deal of the picture is devoted to their gradual reconciliation.

But even more is given over to what might be described as a geriatric version of the old “let’s put on a show!” plot so beloved of old MGM Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies. An annual Beecham House fund-raising concert at which residents perform for contributors is being prepared by officious, flamboyant Cedric (Michael Gambon), and he has the bright idea of having Jean sing, along with Wilf, Reginald and Cissy, one of their old staples—the famous quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Jean, knowing that her voice isn’t what it once was and preferring people to remember her from her recordings, refuses and it’s up to the others to cajole her into reconsidering. It will come as no surprise that everything culminates in the big night, when we watch various acts by residents that we’ve seen them practicing intermittently in their final form, all while the four principals struggle to overcome the last-minute obstacles to their big reunion.

All of this is harmless enough fluff, sparked by winning turns from Smith (as in “Downton Abbey” deliciously haughty), Courtenay (his customarily reserved, reticent self), Collins (the epitome of the dotty English spinster) and Gambon (furiously egotistical and imperious). A little of Connolly’s rambunctious verbalizing, frankly, goes a long way, and there’s an awful lot of it here, but the fault is more in the script, which overdoes the sort of slightly naughty banter that’s designed to appeal to the over-sixty crowd, than with the actor who delivers it. The supporting cast is filled with actual musicians and singers of a certain age, shall we say—the most notable of them soprano Gwyneth Jones, who in her big musical number at the benefit (from “Tosca”) shows that there’s plenty of strength left in her voice. A particularly nice touch occurs in the final credits, where color photos of them are placed beside black-and-white stills of their younger selves.

John de Borman’s elegantly lush widescreen cinematography gives the setting an autumnal glow in both interior and outdoor scenes, while Dario Marianelli’s score, incorporating scads of references to familiar classical standards, fits comfortably with the numerous snatches of pieces performed by the cast.

As for Hoffman, his direction doesn’t show any great personal stamp, but it’s obviously affectionate toward characters that—like him—are rather outsized individuals, and generous toward the actors playing them. His “Quartet” might not plumb any great depths, but it’s an engaging tribute to the tenacity of oldsters determined to retire without being retiring.