Despite a large line-up of Hollywood stars, the last films by “Tree of Life” director Terrence Malick were anything but mainstream. To what extent A HIDDEN LIFE differs from them and whether that is a good thing, we will reveal in our review.
Franz Jägerstätter, played by August Diehl.
The plot summary
Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) run a small farm in the Upper Austrian mountain village of St. Radegund. The annexation of their country to the German Reich (1938) initially had little impact on the everyday life of the couple, who led a simple but happy life with their three small daughters. With the outbreak of the Second World War, a lot of things began to change in the provincial town. Franz repeatedly offends with his rejection of Hitler’s inhumane policies; especially with Mayor Kraus (Karl Markovics), a hard-core Nazi. When Franz and all the other able-bodied men in the area are drafted into the Wehrmacht, the devout Catholic first turns to his local priest (Tobias Moretti), then even to the bishop (Michael Nyqvist). However, he quickly realizes that, apart from a few warm words, he will receive no church support in his plan to refuse to use the weapon for reasons of conscience. Franz realizes that even his denial of the usual oath of loyalty to the Führer will result in an arrest and, ultimately, execution. Nevertheless, he remains steadfast. While he is imprisoned first in Enns and then in Berlin and waits for the trial before Judge Lueben (Bruno Ganz), his family is excluded from the village community and harassed with increasing brazenness and violence. But Fani stands by her husband, who is determined to do what he thinks is right…
A Hidden Life Movie Meaning
Malick connoisseurs will quickly notice that “A Hidden Life” seems much more structured and less experimental than the last works of the three-time Oscar nominee, who also won the Golden Bear and the Palme d’Or, the main prizes at the Berlin and Cannes festivals , distinguished filmmaker. For fans of pure popcorn cinema, this biopic drama about Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943), who was posthumously revered in his homeland and beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007, may seem unwieldy and meandering. Nevertheless, this is by far Malick’s most accessible work since the adventure film “The New World”.
“A Hidden Life” takes place, among other things, against a South Tyrolean backdrop.
That’s not really surprising, even though it runs for almost three hours. For the first time since 2005, the legendary director worked with a script including predetermined plot and dialogue segments for the filming that took place in South Tyrol, Upper Lusatia, the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, the Babelsberg Studios and on location in and around St. Radegund. As far as this aspect is concerned, what is initially beautiful, voluptuous and meditative, and finally very barren, suitably brutal-seeming is in clear contrast to “The Tree of Life”, “To the Wonder”, “Knight of Cups” and “Song to Song”. “ . For these, Malick simply provided vague scenarios, on the basis of which he then had his actors and the camera team improvise under his direction. He shot tons of material at a time and only put together a mostly very vague story after extensive tinkering at the editing table.
Although “A Hidden Life” does not show any battles between soldiers, it should be considered a war film. The threat and terror posed by the enemy can be felt by the viewer at all times. It seems to him and soon to the audience, to the rest of the world, that the great fight is being carried by a single man. He also struggles with his conscience, with himself, his life and his love for his family. August Diehl is brilliant. The German actor (“The Young Karl Marx”) fascinates with a highly emotional, yet immensely intelligent portrayal of his character, who doesn’t speak much (most of the time we hear Jägerstätter’s thoughts or his letters home in voice-over), but a lot says. Even when the protagonist is still in freedom, you can always see in his eyes, his gestures, his entire posture how things are working in and on him; the unbelievable torments he goes through and how he still decides to remain true to his principles, his convictions and his heart. Whatever the cost.
As usual with Malick, there was a huge cast of well-known and talented, but this time exclusively European, actors in front of the camera. In addition to the names mentioned in the synopsis, there are renowned mimes such as Jürgen Prochnow (“The boat”)Alexander Fehling (“Good against north wind”)Franz Rogowski (“Fikkefuchs”)Waldemar Kobus (“The Captain”) or the Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts (“The taste of rust and bones”) included. They all may not have the most detailed appearances, but each one of them is important for the progression or outcome of the whole thing. The mostly hand-held camera not only captures the beauty and innocence of the majestic Alpine landscape, but also repeatedly gets very close to the faces and allows us to almost look into the characters. The actors are obviously aware of this and allow it, showing authentic feelings – whether they are of a positive or profoundly negative nature. The result is a gripping, in some ways exhausting and depressing experience. This is what you should be prepared for as a viewer. Then letting yourself fall into the world created by Malick is even more touching, even more satisfying.
Conclusion: Terrence Malick returns to telling stories with a moving martyr biopic, without putting aside his usual rush of images. Anyone who is willing to get involved will be rewarded with a visually, but above all emotionally, breathtaking cinematic experience.
“A Hidden Life” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from January 30th.