A Hidden Life

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

A Hidden Life
dir-scr Terrence Malick
prd Elisabeth Bentley, Dario Bergesio, Grant Hill, Josh Jeter
with August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Karin Neuhauser, Bruno Ganz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Nyqvist, Jurgen Prochnow, Karl Markovics, Tobias Moretti, Franz Rogowski, Alexander Fehling
release US 13.Dec.19,
UK 17.Jan.20
19/Germany Fox 2h53

ganz schoenaerts nyqvist
london film fest

pachner and diehl
An ode to the unsung hero, Terrence Malick's latest picturesque epic recounts a true story from World War II about a man who is simply unable to violate his personal understanding of right and wrong, no matter the cost. By remaining deeply personal, Malick touches on the impact of one person who takes a stand. Some sequences may feel unnecessary or repetitive, but Malick's impressionistic storytelling style carries a strong kick.
In a spectacular mountain valley in 1939 Austria, Franz and Fani (Diehl and Pachner) are happily running their farm, involved in the community as they raise their three rambunctious young daughters, joined by Franz's mother (Neuhauser) and Fani's sister (Simon). After serving his compulsory military duty, Franz is unnerved when Hitler takes power, demanding an oath of loyalty from his soldiers. So when he's drafted back into service, he refuses. And this puts him on a collision course with a judge (Ganz) in Berlin.
Malick's storytelling is internalised, revealing the plot in wispy voiceover as Franz and Fani write to each other. Conversations between Austrians is in English, while everyone else speaks their own language, unsubtitled. Still, the tone of voice makes the meaning clear. And Jorg Widmer's expressive, dynamic cinematography also fills in between the lines. So while there is a clear narrative, the path through it is largely experiential. This puts the viewer right inside the story, forced to get involved.

Franz's moral position is at the epicentre, and Diehl plays him as a man who simply doesn't have a choice. This may make him slightly simplistic, especially as his mindset puts his family in jeopardy, shunned by the community. He grapples with this silently, and also with Pachner's steely, emotional Frani in moving sequences. Side roles also pack a punch, as people challenge this couple at every turn. And appearances from high-profile actors like Ganz and Schoenaerts (as a German officer) add some meaty texture.

This is a rare exploration how quiet actions can make a difference in the greater scheme of things. It's Malick's argument that just because the world goes mad around you, there's no excuse to abandon your principles and support people or ideas that are downright wrong. At one point, Franz wonders when people stopped being able to see evil right in front of them. So there's clearly a more present-day parallel here as well. Thankfully, Malick's airy style of filmmaking avoids preaching, but he unmistakably gets the message across.

cert 12 themes, violence 4.Nov.19

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... A Hidden Life Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall