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Hidden Life, A
One of the difficulties these days about trying to watch films at home while everyone is sitting home and trying to avoid airborne pandemics is that when you have a young child, the task of watching one more geared to the grown-ups is a difficult task. Even for a film like Frozen II, it took a couple of days to get through, because there's the balance to strike of entertaining your child so you can do things, but not so much so that drool puddles form around him when he's watching a movie ro television. And I don't think he's ready for three-hour art films yet, so the challenge is even harder!
A Hidden Life is the latest film from Terrence Malick (The New World). The film is inspired by the life of Franz Jagerstatter (August Diehl, Inglourious Basterds), a farmer in a quiet Austrian town with his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) as Germany marches through Europe in World War II. Franz is taken by the Nazis and has to fight for them, with the proviso that he swear an oath to Hitler and the Third Reich. The religious Franz objects to making such an oath and is eventually arrested and jailed for it, and the voiceover in the film (apparent in other Malick films) comes from letters he exchanged with Fani while in prison in the time leading to his trial and conviction. Between the period of the trial and his refusal to take the oath, he and Fani are pressured and shunned by the town, and the film looks at this, as well as Franz and Fani's time together and apart.
I knew less about Jagerstatter's life than I did the consensus surrounding A Hidden Life; that the film was a return to form of sorts for Malick, his best since Tree of Life and serving as some sort of timely polemic on modern times, since everyone is ‘resisting' I guess. And I can see why people make the attachment on the latter, but I think more appropriately serves as a fascinating look at a man who is separated from everything he holds dear for the sake of his beliefs. They are his beliefs and his wife is aware of them but understands they are his.
A couple of things that make the film especially resonant is having a couple of more compassionate voices in the film that do show their true motivations, and those voices are sadly no longer with us; Michael Nyqvist (John Wick) plays Joseph Fliesser, a Bishop who tries to get Franz to renounce his position and take the oath, and does so with precision, knowing what the end result may be and does so without remorse. Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire) plays the Judge in the trial, and he is more sympathetic in his limited time, and in a moment in his chambers with Franz, seems to come away feeling deeply affected by his views and their purity, to the extent that perhaps some envy is present. It's a poignant coda to Ganz' career.
Diehl and Pachner are excellent in their respective positions, with the latter (given the treatment she endures in the village) coming off a little like she's from a von Trier movie. Not sensationalist, but the harassment she endures is palpable. Unlike a von Trier movie, Fani gets to see the other side of it from the villagers, that is she gets to see some remorse from them, and it proves to also be emotional. I remember Diehl captivating in one big scene in Basterds and he extends that feeling here over the course of the film also. It is hard to know whether or not he truly captured the essence of a Austrian who later was beatified by the Catholic Church, but after watching A Hidden Life he seems to have gotten in the ballpark, so to speak.
The beauty of film is that people will attach what personal feelings or beliefs they wish to it, if it resonates deeply enough for them. At its purest, I think A Hidden Life tells us of the value of staying honest with yourself and what you think, and given whatever it is that's going on these days, that is a lot more powerful a message to give to people you interact with than anything else.
The AVC encode given to A Hidden Life is superb. The alpine countrysides are lush with greens and blues, and browns of buildings are lush and vivid also. The trailer for the film shows you the type of visuals you are in for, but what was particularly captivating about the film was the image detail captured in it (this was the first Malick film shot digitally, and cinematographer Jorg Widmer (who has worked with Malick in some fashion since Tree of Life gets as much as you can in frame. You get wood grain, individual blades of grass, caked dirt on fingernails and the like, all while giving the hallmark Malick visuals the beauty they deserve.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless track is impressive, though at times does not get a lot to do, partly because as is the case in Malick films, one is left to muse at shots of farmland and action, or lack thereof. James Newton Howard's score is minimal but increases in influence as the film goes on, striking ethereal and emotional notes for the viewer. Dialogue is steady through the film, with larger moments like church bells and planes panning effectively. The soundtrack envelops and is up to the task.
A digital code for the film, but no extras. Guess they're coming on the Criterion version then (note: I do not know if a Criterion version is coming).
Yes, A Hidden Life is Terrence Malick's best work since Tree of Life, and is a confluence of circumstances like his eye meeting digital video (and looking exceptional), and hitting some base emotional chords that he has not done for quite some time. Technically, the film is a gem, but the lack of extras make this a bummer (*cough, Criterion, *cough cough*). But if you like Malick or good films and find yourself with some time on your hands, A Hidden Life will sate your appetite.