IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
PG-13 | 2h 54min | Biography, Drama | 30 Jan 2020 (New Zealand) | Movie
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80% Fresh
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
IMDb summary: The Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector, refuses to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
Knowing nothing at all about the man this film is about, I was intrigued. While I am not a huge fan of all of Terrence Malick’s body of work, I was astounded and moved by this film. Words are hard to find when you are overcome with so many feelings.
War is one of the most gruelling experiences a person can ever have. War breaks you as a person. And you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of loss, which is what I felt through many scenes in the film. The “iron fist” of the Nazi’s was so far-reaching, it must have felt like a nightmare for Franz’s family when he was called up to serve. And undoubtedly, a terrible thing to do if you conscientiously object to what Nazism and Hitler stood for.
How Terrence Malick shot this film is both appealing and a little trying. Trying because the camera angles are so close and so intimate with the actors. It almost feels like you are intruding on their lives, their most private moments. This worked well for the telling of this story, but it also made me feel very uncomfortable. I am not sure if that is what Terrence Malick was aiming for or not.
The actors were brilliant as if they embodied the very people they were portraying. It was beautiful to watch them on-screen. They didn’t miss a single beat and carried this film through to the very end with an incredible amount of intensity and skill. And the harshness of their experience up against such a breathtakingly serene countryside was challenging to watch. On the one hand, you have the beauty of the surroundings; the freedom of nature and the vastness of the mountain range beckoning for you to melt into it and lose yourself in its abundance. And the camera is so close to these two people struggling to contain their rage and their fear and their sadness amongst a backdrop so beautiful. This was one of the most brilliant parts of this film. Terrence Malick is masterful in tapping into the emotional states of a husband and wife who are being torn apart while simultaneously capturing the exquisiteness of the European countryside.
The film is structured almost like a poem. The small segments of narration by the two main characters tied each scene together in a lovely flow. It’s difficult to explain how it felt to me, but it was like watching two performers in a play, not on screen or in a film.
A Hidden Life, like The Tree of Life, will take over one viewing to grasp everything that’s good about it. While I loved the pacing and the overwhelming emotional bond between the two principal actors, it sometimes bugged me that there was so much of it at the same time. Emotionally, I felt drained by the end. It is a very moving film, but it’s not for everyone, particularly if you like a faster pace in the films you watch.