“People look up and dream that if they had lived during Christ’s time, they wouldn’t have done what the others did.”
There’s a pride that comes with supporting your country, even during the worst times. But when it comes to war, and many problematic issues that envelope our motherland, there are those few who stand up against the norm, and refuse to participate in these injustices. Based on a true story, A Hidden Life focuses on Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who refuses to fight for the Nazis during World War 2. Franz struggles to fully see how the war, and more importantly, the Nazi’s message, are justified. Through hostile stares from fellow Austrians, Franz (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) brave the storm with their love and faith to keep them going. As we’ve seen with 1917’s World War 1 tale, A Hidden Life measures the heroics of a World War, but this time from a civilian’s viewpoint. With an enrapturing story told by writer and director Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life reveals to us one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking true stories of war.
I can happily agree with fellow audience members in saying that Malick is back to his true form with A Hidden Life. This is definitely Malick’s best film since 2011’s The Tree of Life. A Hidden Life is what I can only describe to you as a remarkable story of poetry in motion. However, this film would not be what it is without our two main characters, Diehl and Pachner, who play the married couple. The theme of religion runs, not so subtly, within the story. But it’s the love between this husband and wife, that will simply move you. Their chemistry is some of best –from any film– that I’ve seen in a while. The Jägerstätters don’t live a life of luxury, as they carry out their farming duties in the small Austrian town of St. Radegund. They take joy in being with one another and devoting themselves to the family and their God. It would have been so easy for Franz to become frightened, and surrender his position in order to continue to live this peaceful life. It would have been easy for Fani to become angry and force her husband to stand down, because both are living with the struggles in objecting Hitler’s War. Nevertheless, they refuse to back down and be complicit to the injustices against so many. Yes, it’s their love that roots them firmly within each other. The pressure of having great performances comes with having characters like this. Diehl and Pachner’s are so remarkable, they become the film. A Hidden Life could be stripped of its beautiful aesthetic, and it would still be a fantastic film with these two at its core. The pain. The hurt. The love. The joy. You will feel everything that they’re feeling, which them makes the pain sting at your heart that much more.
But of course Malick’s talents show through as this film is so beautifully told. Malick’s underlying foundation of religion is a fascinating backdrop, and contrast, to those who believe that they would have taken a stand against the crucifixion of Jesus. Now that these people have a chance to stand up for injustices, what will they do? This question amplifies Franz’s bravery and morality in standing up to the evils that are the Nazis. And also puts into question our own stance in saying that we would have never participated in something as horrific as the holocaust that smothered the mentality of the country’s citizens.
Malick had to do without his usual collaborators, such as, cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer, Jack Fisk. But there’s never any misstep, as though some element was missing from the film. The cinematography by Jörg Widmer is absolutely astonishing. The hills that surround the Jägerstätters home becomes a character itself by showing the audience the beauty that surrounds this couple even during a turbulent time.
A Hidden Life is like a written poem, or a painting that you can’t take your eyes off of. From the very beginning, you’re submerged in the exquisite environment of the Austrian hillside. This is a typical Malick piece in combining stunning visuals with a dramatic narrative. However, A Hidden Life takes on a whole different meaning of the artistic film.
A Hidden Life
Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick
Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Bruno Ganz