When the Nazis lost the war and Hitler killed himself, not only an army was defeated. Droves of ordinary Germans were starving, tormented by their captors and made homeless. They were also left with nothing in which to believe. A whole way of thinking had suddenly unravelled; it would be up to the next generation to reconfigure the idea of what it meant to be German.
Cate Shortland's film Lore approaches this time through a story of Nazi loyalists' children who are left alone when their parents are arrested for war crimes. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), who is only 15, picks up the baby and leads her other three younger siblings on an 800-kilometre walk to their grandmother's house by the North Sea. Raised with a sense of Aryan superiority, Lore begins to see that her family has been part of something monstrous.
Shortland's film premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where the Alps loom behind the mediaeval piazza where films are screened. A mostly German-speaking audience of about 8000 barely seemed to breathe as Lore and her blond siblings struggled through sylvan forests immortalised by the Brothers Grimm. They meet and are saved by Thomas (Kai Malina), a Jewish prisoner freed from Buchenwald. The silence thickened as Lore told him not to touch her plate with his filthy Jewish hands. It is hard to bear the fact that people routinely said such disgusting things. It is hard to hear them said aloud.
Yet Lore is a sympathetic character, thanks to Rosendahl's performance, which is at once brave, tremulous and wrong.
''What was really great for me as a director was that she is a really kind person and a really generous person, so she had to constantly fight herself to be that character,'' Shortland says. ''What you are seeing is this girl fighting her own instincts, and that was beautiful for me.''
Not being able to speak German, Shortland did a huge amount of research. Inspiration came from her reading about the children of Albert Speer, Hitler's favourite architect, who were notable humanitarians. ''They said they had never asked their father about anything,'' she says. ''Not ever.
''One of my dear friends is head of Holocaust studies at Sydney University and when she saw the film, she said what she loved about it was that it makes you think if you were alive then, would you have stepped outside your society to do the right thing, or would you stay quiet?''
CRITICAL BUZZ Won the all-important audience prize at the Locarno Film Festival last month, where audiences were stunned by its picture of a country and ideology in free fall.
STARS Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Ursina Lardi.
DIRECTOR Cate Shortland.
RELEASE September 20.