Hello, Movie Buffs!
Written and directed by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The New World), and based on real events, A Hidden Life (2019) is a epic historical drama depicting the life of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer, a devout Catholic, and a hard-working family man. Living in the remote alpine village of Radegund, Franz is blessed with a beautiful family and it is their love and faith the esures daily happiness despite having to perform laborious chores. Franz is sent to Enns Military base for training in 1940 when it is announced that all Austrians must swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler and fight in WWII. But upon returning to his village under a farming exemption, Franz bristles at the Nazi ideology and determins that his faith and conscience will not permit him to serve a government he considers to be evil. Backed by the unwavering faith and devotion of his wife Franziska “Fani” (Valerie Pachner), Franz is able to keep his spirit alive and his conscience clear, despite being faced with the ire of his village and the threat of execution for his ‘treason’.
Filmmaker Terrence Malick has been searching for meaning and questioning faith in almost all of his films, his most recent film A Hidden Life features themes about humanity and faith and focuses on a man whose unshakeable belief in right and wrong cost him his life. Set in Austria at the end of the 1930’s, the film opens up with contrasting images from a black screen with faint nature sounds to wide expansive views of an idyllic and remote farming village in the Austrian Alps to historical clips of Hitler. The first half of the film is filled with dread and anxiety, while the second half of the film is all about suffering. Although he knows that him and his family will be labeled as traitors (something worse than being an enemy), Franz holds firm to his beliefs. He refuses to swear an oath to Hitler, to contribute to a Nazi solicitation for veterans, and to accept a cash subsidy for his family. In short, Franz refuses to accept anything or contribute in any way that might been seen as him being sympathetic to an evil cause. Throughout the film he continually asks the question, "Don't they know evil when they see it," and struggles with his faith in a world where there is no room for individual thought. When other villagers and soldiers ask in various ways "What purpose does it serve" in regards to his objections, Franz's response is, "I can't do what I know is wrong." Although the exact specifics that go against Franz’s conscience are always left vague, there is no mention of Jews or extermination throughout the entire film.
Later on Franz and Fani find themselves each in their own prison - isolated from the life they love -, he is imprisoned with very little access to nature or his family and she is the village outcast trying desperatly to take care of their daughters. While imprisoned, Franz writes many letters to Fani filled with hope, love, faith, philosophy, and are the main source for how his story is discovered years later. Both Franz and Fani were far more complex, educated, well traveled, and widely experienced characters than the holy peasant and martyr that we see here but this is a more fictionalized version of events and yet it is no less entertaining.
I wouldn’t be surprised if A Hidden Life became a fixture in discussion groups at schools, seminars, and even churches in the years to come. He asks questions such as: When it feels like God has abandoned us and won’t show us the way, how do we know to do what is right? And when the world challenges our beliefs, how do we know when to give and when to stand firm in our faith. A Hidden Life is designed to challenge the viewer from beginning to end, and yet at the same time it is also a spiritually confident film that reminds of Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence, another film that challenges faith and reflects on Scorsese’s discussion about the importance of God in his life.
Filmmaker Malick does not adhere to the concept of acting power and his style of cutting actors, including big name ones, has to do with his linear storytelling approach because that is the main focal point of his films: the story is the main star and the actors are just supporting characters to the film. As a result this makes him one of most experimental filmmakers when it comes to the concept of emotional storytelling. In every film he seeks to tackle the emotional state of a human being both on a big scale and on a small scale, while also questioning the existence of higher power. In A Hidden Life August Diehl (Allied) as Franz Jägerstätter and Valerie Pachner (The Ground Beneath My Feet) as his wife Franziska Jägerstätter are incredible with Diehl showcasing Franz’s goodness and resolve, and Pachner showcases Frani’s struggle of being ostracized be everyone but the town miller (Johannes Krisch, A Cure for Wellness), chasing after three demanding daughters, and come to terms with losing everything for the sake of doing what's right. Other big name actors like Matthias Schoenaerts (Red Sparrow, The Laundromat), Jürgen Prochnow (The English Patient), and Bruno Ganz (Unknown) are good as they get the chance to appear in brief roles throughout the film.Overall, A Hidden Life (2019) is an entertaining and moving film that will challenge viewers and ask some important questions about faith and humanity. With a run time of almost 3 hours and a deep story, this is one of those films where you have to be open minded and prepare to go on a spiritual odyssey that follows a man who must make a difficult decision. One that will have dire consequences and affect both him and his family for years to come. If you were a fan of Martin Scorsese’s deeply moving 2016 film Silence then I highly suggest that you check out this film when you can.
Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars
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