A Hidden Life

Definitely not The Sound of Music
Verdict: 
8/10 - Though ambitious and carefully crafted, A Hidden Life could have done with one final edit to shorten the lengthy runtime.
Release Date: 
Friday, January 17, 2020
Written by: 

Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life delves into the story of Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter as he faces the threat of execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis during World War II.

8

Since releasing Badlands in 1973, Terrence Malick has built up a reputation for exploring serious themes and philosophical topics in his films.

And the director's latest project, A Hidden Life, is most certainly no different.

The historical drama is inspired by the life of Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter, a devout Catholic and conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II.

Shot in Germany and a mountain village in northern Italy, the film is set in 1939 and follows Franz (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) as they raise their three young daughters and tend to their crops in the town of St. Radegund.

However, the couple's simple life is interrupted when Franz is called up for basic training and sent away for several months.

Fani and her sister Resie Schwaninger (Maria Simon) have no choice but to hold the fort, and even though Franz makes a brief return when it appears the war may soon be over.

He quickly alienates himself from his neighbours and Mayor Kraus (Karl Markovics) by rejecting a call to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, as well as by ignoring other Nazi soldiers passing through the village.

Following tense conversations with Fani, his mother Rosalia Jagerstatter (Karin Neuhauser), the mayor, and a fruitless appointment with the Bishop of Salzburg (Michael Nyqvist), Franz begins to become increasingly committed to his beliefs, even if it means he will inevitably be arrested and taken to prison - where he will face the threat of execution for treason.

 

Accordingly, Malick delves into some very deep subjects, including that of morality, war, faith, resistance, and the conflict between instinct and self-preservation.

Diehl does a brilliant job of conveying his character's inner turmoil.

A scene in which he declines to recite a pledge in front of army officers is simultaneously nerve-wracking and breathtakingly brave.

Elsewhere, Pachner offers a convincing performance as Franz's understanding and hardworking wife.

Though Fani demonstrates unconditional love towards her husband, the effect of his actions has a tremendous impact on herself and their children.

It's hard to watch her in physical pain as she attempts to run the household and tend to the farm, whilst also navigating deep emotional torment when she becomes the target of criticism from the people in her village due to her partner failing to serve in the military as their fathers, sons, and brothers were doing.

Also, watch out for a brief appearance from Matthias Schoenaerts, as well as Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who made his final performance in the film before his death in February 2019.

As expected from a Malick project, the cinematography is immaculate, with Jorg Widmer opting for some unusual camera angles which often crop the figures' faces or cleverly capture the vast rolling landscape of the Austrian mountains.

The only real flaw is the 174-minute runtime, with sequences such as the exchange of letters between Franz and Fani in the second act proving to be rather long and not particularly necessary to the plot development.

But if you are prepared to commit to viewing A Hidden Life, Malick certainly delivers a challenging and ambitious film about the rippling effect of one man's act of rebellion.

© Cover Media

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