Young German actress, Saskia Rosendahl, talks about teaming up with Cate Shortland for the haunting WW2 tale, ‘Lore’.
Somersualt’sdirector Cate Shortland originally thought German actress, Saskia Rosendahl, was “too beautiful” for the lead role in her new feature, Lore. But after absolutely nailing her audition – and bringing everyone to tears in the process – the actress was cast in the Australian/German co-production. Marking the debut feature for the young actress, it was a weighty task, but Rosendahl beautifully and courageously essays the titular German teenager compelled to care for her younger siblings after their Nazi parents are taken into Allied custody. Having grown up taught to believe in one of the most destructive political ideologies of our time, it’s only on the children’s cross-country journey to safety that Lore is exposed to – and challenged by – the consequences of her parents’ actions. With the release of the film this week, Rosendahl answered a few questions for us via email.
What connected with you about Lore and how challenging did you find her to play?
What drew me to Lore when I read the script for the first time was the complexity of her character and the ambiguity of her feelings. I wanted to understand every single decision this young girl makes being confronted with the responsibility of her four siblings, finding out that her life was a lie, and knowing that she has to trust a Jew who she feels attracted to and repulsed by at the same time. Not only trying to understand all these things, but also trying to feel what Lore felt in order to embody her in an authentic way was sometimes really challenging.
How did you find revisiting this time in your country’s history? Was the story a revelation at all for you or were you already well versed in this history?
On the one hand, you often deal with WW2 in German schools and I was lucky that I had a really good history teacher. On the other hand, my great grandmother always told us about her own experiences with the WW2 and the period afterwards. But Lore regards the postwar period from a completely different point of view – the children of perpetrators.
Why do you believe that Lore has been able to hold onto her belief system so strongly even in the face of evidence suggesting otherwise? And do you believe it’s her relationship with Thomas [a Jewish refugee the children encounter] that makes her begin to question her beliefs?
It’s Lore’s upbringing that makes her hold onto her belief system so strongly. Parental and social education can manipulate and form a child so intensively. She also does it out of protection and fear. Lore always has to keep her siblings and herself moving on and that seems easier when there’s a familiar system to hold onto. There are several things that make her question her beliefs. When her mum leaves, she is left with a lot of questions. From then on, she realises that she doesn’t know the whole truth about what is going on in Germany. Suddenly her whole view of life changes as she finds out that her father is a murderer who killed people in Belarus. Lore never felt such shame before but now everybody is looking at her as a perpetrator and not as a “good German girl” who follows the rules of society. A very important impulse to question her beliefs comes from her relationship with Thomas. She discovers her sexual desire. Knowing that he is a Jew makes her whole body react against her own feelings for him. She knows that she can’t manage the situation without his help and that is why she begins to trust someone she was told to hate. Her journey through postwar Germany makes her realise that Jews are just human beings, like herself. Thomas eats like she does, he feels hunger like she does and he fights for his life, just as they do.
How did you find working with Cate Shortland and how did you develop the character of Lore together?
Working with Cate is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We got along very well, personally as well as working on set together. Our work was based on trust. During the rehearsals we improvised a lot and she always asked us what we think the character would do and why. We were free to put our own ideas into the character and to develop a truthful story. Together with our great dramatic adviser, Hanne Wolharn, we watched documentaries and sang songs that were sung during WW2.
Did the language barrier make things difficult in terms of Cate not being able to understand the dialogue on set?
Cate knew the script and all the dialogue by heart so she always got what we were talking about, even if we were free to improvise a bit or to change the words so that it seemed more natural to us. On top of that, we had Hanne to translate everything, especially for the younger actors. I was working very closely with Cate speaking English so that was no problem. However, even more important than the dialogue itself was the emotional level.
This being your first lead role in a feature film, how did you find the experience and is acting something that you’re looking to pursue as a career?
From the very beginning, I knew that I was really lucky for having experienced this. I never felt uncomfortable and learned so much about what it means to be an actress. I also got to know myself better. Now I just finished school and have to find my own way into life.
Having seen the film, what did you think of it? And how do you think it will be received in Germany?
In my opinion, Lore manages to deal with the problematic nature of WW2 and the time after in an authentic way. It does not try to criticise or judge. It brings the question of responsibility, shame and guilt nearer by telling a story from a new point of view. It’s not easy to guess how the film will be received in Germany but I hope the audience will engage with it and be open to think and talk about it. We should remain receptive to films about WW2 and the time afterwards, because there are still many stories to be told.
Lore is released in cinemas September 20. And we’re giving away tickets here.