Interview: Cate Shortland on reinvigorating the Holocaust film in 'Lore'
To further her understanding of the narrative, Australian native Shortland considered her home country’s legacy of racial oppression – as well as that of South Africa, where, in the gap between “Somersault” and “Lore,” she lived for a time and adopted two children. “I looked at our own atrocities, and they’re not really being dealt with. In Germany, the transparency with which they deal with history, at least on an educational level or a government level, is incredible. Same thing in South Africa. Living in those two countries had a big influence on looking at Lore and how she confronts her own history.”
Perhaps appropriately, given these universalities, the film doesn’t feel much like a period piece – styled in the same brisk, exterior-dominated tones that made the contemporary “Somersault” so coolly bracing. “I love the detail of period pieces, but I also love looking beyond the corsets, beyond the hairstyles, and equating it to my own life – the morality, the humor.” She credits ace DP Adam Arkapaw – who recently made a splash in “Animal Kingdom” and “Snowtown” – with keeping the film fresh in this manner. “We’d be shooting in houses that were 200 years old, but he just has this kind of refreshing anarchy about him, and the way he was shooting it.”
Between its handheld camerawork and saturated jewelry-box palette, Arkapaw and Shortland have devised a roughly stylized aesthetic that she likens to a tainted fairyland – all the better to convey Lore’s growing disillusionment. “When I was about five years old, my mom gave me a big picture book and it was Red Riding Hood – but, like, the ‘Jaws’ version of Red Riding Hood. Horrendous violence, but incredibly, incredibly beautiful. And it was tattooed into my soul or something. I think that’s in there.”
Australian-funded, but shot in Germany with a part-German crew, “Lore” is a proudly international production, even if it’s representing only one country at the Oscars. Against the advice of some producers, Shortland insisted on shooting the film in German – though her own command of the language is limited. She’s firm in her belief that any other option would amount to “some kind of bullshit reality,” and as excited as she is to be in the Oscar race, she’d rather not think of herself or the film as representing the Australian film industry on a global stage.
“I really do see ‘Lore’ as an amalgamation,” she says. “Part German, part British, part Australian. And we had a fantastic patchwork of people working on it. But the really incredible part of the whole journey has been that the Australian government believed in the film, believed in what we wanted to do, and didn’t say no. It’s the way the industry’s got to go. The time of a white man in his forties making most films in Australia has come to an end.”
Though Shortland is reluctant to label herself a ‘female filmmaker’ – as if that intrinsically defines the films she makes – she says it’s no coincidence that the Australian film industry boasts a higher proportion of high-profile female directors than most, from Jane Campion to Gillian Armstrong to Julia Leigh. Much of the credit, she explains, goes to producer Jan Chapman who, in the 1970s, started a women’s film cooperative, with particularly emphasis on the technology of filmmaking.
“They lobbied when the film school started, and women were a big part of the first intake. From that moment it’s sort of never been questioned. I was asked to direct a television show straight out of film school and I haven’t stopped working since. I never wanted to be a male director.”
So she’s not dismissing the gender factor out of hand, then? After all, both her features have been centered on complex, conflicted female protagonists. “I think I’m fascinated by the female psyche,” she says, after a moment’s consideration. “I’m fascinated by women’s sexuality and the way that they see the world: the details that make up that big canvas. It really excites me shooting like that.”