Time: 174 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence
August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter
Valerie Pachner as Franziska Jägerstätter
Karin Neuhauser as Rosalia Jagerstatter
Michael Nyqvist as Bishop Joseph Fliesser
Jürgen Prochnow as Major Schlegel
Matthias Schoenaerts as Captain Herder
Bruno Ganz as Judge Lueben
Director: Terrence Malick
Based on real events, A Hidden Life is the story of an unsung hero, Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War 2. When the Austrian peasant farmer is faced with the threat of execution for treason, it is his unwavering faith and his love for his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner), and children, that keeps his spirit alive.
A Hidden Life was a movie I was paying attention to for a while. Terrence Malick is a divisive filmmaker, but I’ve seen almost all of his movies (not gotten around to The New World yet) and I liked most of them. After Tree of Life which most people liked, Malick got a little more experimental and loose with his narrative, and not everyone has warmed to his next few movies. A Hidden Life however seemed to be a lot more focused and conventional in terms of story, and I was curious what he’d be doing with this movie, especially with one based on a true story. Having seen it, this might actually be one of Terrence Malick’s best movies.
First thing to note is that A Hidden Life is nearly 3 hours long. While I really like Malick, I always get the feeling of his movies being stretched out, and this is indeed one of his longest movies. I will say that you do feel the runtime here and I wish this movie was trimmed down just a little bit (probably mainly some parts with the main character’s family in the second half as it begins to be a little repetitive, but otherwise the length didn’t bother me too much, I was pretty invested. It doesn’t do that thing where it meanders like Knight of Cups, Song to Song or To the Wonder, it seems pretty steady with its focus on the story. The story is deeply emotional and reflective, and unlike some of his other movies, there is a strong dramatic backbone throughout. It’s also thematically strong, about right and wrong, faith, and the like. Although it was a long experience, I really felt it was all worth it.
The acting from everyone is good, but it’s the two main performances that are particularly incredible. That is of August Diehl who plays the main character, and Valerie Pachner as his wife. Both gives generally internalised but very emotional and believable performances, deserving of very high praise. I do think it’s worth noting that this film also features the final on-screen appearances of Bruno Ganz and Michael Nyqvist.
Terrence Malick as usual directs beautifully. You do get the familiar Malickisms, the beautiful music, the shots following people, the usual editing, voiceovers, if you’ve seen his other movies, you know what to expect here. While his style isn’t for everyone, I liked it, and he’s done some great work here. While Malick films are typically shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, this time the cinematography is done by Jörg Widmer, and it’s a gorgeous looking movie, making great use of the locations and environment. Definitely among some of the best cinematography in a 2019 film. It’s such an intimate movie and not on such a large scale like some of Malick’s other movies, but it’s directed just as well. While some have called some of his most recent uses of voiceovers to be bordering on self parody, with A Hidden Life, it definitely has a strong purpose. The music by James Newton Howard is also great and works perfectly for the movie.
A Hidden Life is an emotional, at times harrowing, yet beautiful and excellently well made film, and a stand out from 2019. A Hidden Life probably won’t work for those who haven’t seen a Terrence Malick movie before, or aren’t a fan of any of his movies. However to those who are, it’s really worth checking out.