Title – A Hidden Life (2019)
Director – Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Cast – August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz, Michael Nyqvist
Plot – The true story of Austrian Franz Jägerstätter (Diehl) who was a conscientious objector of the Nazi regime despite the negative effects it would have on him and his family.
“Better to suffer injustice than to do it”
Review by Eddie on 14/02/2020
After a recent career patch that has proved to be the most divisive of his long-standing career, with modern day set pieces Knight of Cups, Song to Song and To the Wonder leaving most people cold and documentary The Voyage of Time coming and going with very little fanfare, director Terrance Malick returns to the past that has previously worked so well to deliver what is undoubtedly his best film since the triumph of The Tree of Life, in what acts as a stunning return to form.
Based on the true story of Austrian farmer and conscientious Nazi objector Franz Jägerstätter, A Hidden Life may be Malick’s longest film to date at a whopping 170 plus minutes and while to some this eye-wateringly beautiful film may appear to be nothing more than Austrian farming simulator circa the 1940’s, this powerful examination of faith, morals and holding firm to ones beliefs is a moving and unforgettable exercise that makes a powerful case for Malick to stick firm to more structured narrative storytelling moving forward.
It’s not to say A Hidden Life is unlike Malick’s previous classics, with the Texan director instilling his film with his usual visual orientated and voice over storytelling techniques that fits perfectly alongside Jörg Widmer’s magnificent cinematography work and James Newton Howard’s haunting score, but the fact Malick is here following Jägerstätter’s and his wife Fani’s true life tale ensures that all the wonder and beauty seen on screen means something more as we are allowed to contemplate and embrace the journey of one man’s firm stance against evil.
In today’s modern age where world leadership and evil in various forms abound, Malick’s ethereal journey asks some important questions that may not have clear cut answers but while right and wrong can sometimes blur together in unpredictable and hard to understand ways, he never loses sight of the love story at the heart of this tale that will surely move even the most stoic of viewers.
Shot in the picturesque surrounds of Europe (almost every shot of this film could be a painting on a wall) and placed mostly around the small farming township of Franz and Fani’s home of St. Radegund, A Hidden Life almost feels as though it takes place in a dreamlike place that could never actually exist, as the loving married couple spend their days entertaining their young girls, tending to their crops and animals and living out their days in a peaceful state but Malick finds a balance between the otherworldly and the harsh realities of WW2 life, that is movingly played out by lead actors August Diehl and Valerie Pachner, who make just as big of a mark as Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen in Badlands and Brooke Adams and Richard Gere in Days of Heaven.
While there are questions to be raised about the need for A Hidden Life to run close to the three hour mark, with a portion of the films middle section feeling somewhat repetitive, the layered nature of the film that features an abundance of religious undertones, imagery and questions that sit comfortably alongside an emotionally charged tale of romance and family ensures that for those willing to partake in Malick’s latest masterpiece, they will be rewarded with a film that demands multiple viewings to fully appreciate.
Final Say –
A sadly overlooked return to form for one of cinema’s great storytellers, A Hidden Life is not a film to convert those that don’t appreciate Terrence Malick’s style of film-making but for everyone else, this true life WW2 set tale will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.
4 ½ scythes out of 5