A HIDDEN LIFE gets 7/10 Out of the darkness

Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts


There may be some flaws in the pacing and story progression, but there’s no denying the artistic craftsmanship in A Hidden Life, which takes its time pondering greatly on this true story of utter defiance. This film feels so grand and majestic, even if it at times also feels laborious, particularly as it tries elongating (and diluting) its intense emotions in the lead up to the finish.

Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) lives an idyllic life in a small mountain village in Austria, tending to his farm and taking care of his kids with his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner). But World War II looms over them – like the other countrymen, Franz is drafted for war, but unlike the other countrymen, he refuses to fight or swear allegiance to the Third Reich, for religious reasons. His status as a conscientious objector makes him a martyr, and the film wonders how much he will sacrifice for his faith.

A Hidden Life tells this very simple tale in a very simple way, but it resonates with a complexity about its morality, even if it feels so subdued. The implications of this central decision could evoke thousands of in-depth discussions, which would’ve occurred from a more literary filmmaker, but Terrence Malick has often been more visual, and he presents this film in a more indirectly ponderous manner.

If you’re familiar with Malick’s unique style, it’s not much different here, though there certainly feels like there’s more actual substantive purpose than in the career low that were his last two films. This is a film that’s astonishingly crafted, completely transporting you to this historical setting, and (unsurprisingly for a Malick film) looks gorgeous in so many of the shots portraying this mountain village.

However, there’s a great disparity in quality between the masterful long shots and the awkward-looking close-ups. There should be great importance to the visage of the characters’ faces and what they’re telling, yet it’s distracting to see the faces distorted by odd lens work, as if Malick and his cinematographer didn’t bother changing lenses between long shots and close-ups. The landscapes look amazing, as do the characters, as long as they don’t get too close to the camera.

A Hidden Life seems to just miss on reaching masterpiece level, as it is very much reiterative, becoming particularly tedious towards the end and mangles any culminative power it’s trying to generate. It insists upon itself, but does so quietly and gracefully, and for that it is a film that will mean a different amount to different people.


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