As beautifully-shot as any in Malick’s oeuvre, this three-hour long piece based on a true story of an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis in WWII is somewhat a return to form for the American auteur whose work here might still come across as a tad flat.
Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz
Plot: The Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector, refuses to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
Awards: Won Francois Chalais Award & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Faith, Morality, Conscience
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Somewhat a return to form for the American auteur of films such as Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Tree of Life (2011), A Hidden Life is as beautifully-shot as any in Terrence Malick’s oeuvre.
Opting for Jorg Widmer as cinematographer instead of the usual services of Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick’s visual style remains unmistakably his—picturesque landscape shots and poetic close-ups are impressionistically put together with a generous serving of jump cuts.
It’s now a cliché of some sort, a case of Malick copying Malick, though here he primarily employs the wide-angle lens, albeit to mixed effect.
Naturalistic images sometimes look too crisp and sharp as if digitally manipulated, and they don’t immediately align with the aesthetic sensibility of a period film set in WWII. Still, there are few directors with a visual eye as astonishing as Malick.
“Better to suffer injustice than to do it.”
Based on a true story of an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis—a conscientious objector as someone like that would be called—and consequently becomes a target of hate for him and his family by his community, A Hidden Life however draws little power from his iron-willed conviction.
As a drama, it is not a given that a seemingly powerful story like this would be emotionally stirring. The film does come across as a tad flat to me—while I do admire the strength and courage shown by the lead character, August Diehl’s performance didn’t move me.
Malick’s engagement with the theme of religious faith is more interesting to me as Diehl’s character wrestles with the psychological and spiritual impact of his actions on his beliefs as a righteous Christian man.
Can one man defy the ideological narrative of his race and nation? Malick has an answer to that, but his film doesn’t transcend itself or pose more challenging questions—in a way, A Hidden Life is one of his most conventional works, though that also means it could very well be his most accessible picture since 1973’s Badlands.