The Holocaust was an event so terrible that we're still trying to understand it, decades later. We probably never will. But that searching has, at least, given us some great art that explores questions too many people in Germany and beyond would have been happy to see never asked.

"Lore," Australia's entry to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, adds another entry to the genre, but it's a refreshing, though no less dark, take on the horrors.

The title character is a 14-year-old girl unexpectedly forced to grow up quickly, in ways her parents never did. As the film, directed by the Australian Cate Shortland but filmed in Germany, in German, opens, Lore's father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) returns home from the war. Lore rushes to greet her beloved father, only to learn his return means a departure. He's dressed in the uniform of an SS officer, and before the family abandons its comfortable home, he'll make a large bonfire with books, files and other paraphernalia of the Nazi regime.

They find refuge in a farmhouse in the country, but it's short-lived. Father runs -- his beautiful wife gets a slap to the face after she calls him a coward -- and mother soon follows. The mother (a tough but breakable Ursina Lardi) chops wood in her dressing gown and smokes endless cigarettes. She's an almost glamorous figure, until we learn the things she's taught her beautiful, blond children to believe. Bloodied and battered -- Lore doesn't know if she's been raped or had an abortion -- she breaks down crying, telling the girl, "He's gone. He's dead." Lore stops short. She thinks the woman is talking about her father. But no: "Our Fuhrer, Lore."

On screen
» Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina, Ursina Lardi
» Director: Cate Shortland
» Rated: Unrated
» Running time: 108 minutes

Before leaving, Lore's mother instructs her what to do if she isn't back in three days: take a train to Hamburg and go to Grandmother's house. Lore, in charge of four younger siblings, including a baby, makes that trek through the Black Forest. But this is anything but a fairy tale, though there are plenty of wolves around every corner -- Allied troops, escaped Jews, angry Germans.

The about-to-be-awakened Lore is, to her horror, attracted to one: a former concentration camp prisoner named Thomas (Kai Malina, from another masterful film set in Germany, Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon"). But is this mysterious young man there to protect the Aryan children, or to take revenge? And more important: Will Lore ever understand what such a man might have gone through, why he would want revenge, and why some would say he deserves it?

Cate Shortland's tough, moving film is shot with great intimacy, driving home the idea that great horrors are ultimately a personal responsibility.