A Hidden Life is reclusive director Terrence Malick’s is the true story about Franz Jagerstatter who much like Meghan & Harry was a conscientious objector ….. the difference here being that Jagerstatter refused to fight for the Nazis in WWII whereas Megs & Harry object to carrying out their Royal duties. The little known story concerns Franz , his wife and his three little girls lived and worked on their farm in a tiny village during WWII when he is called up to fight for the Nazis. His village are all for fighting for their country in a scene where they drink outside and an outspoken elder cajoles the others in praising the work the Nazis are carrying out and Jagerstatter, tellingly refuses to join in with the other villagers in support of what’s been spouted choosing instead to turn his back on it all and walk home to his family. He is a devout husband and the love of being a father to his innocent and joyful children contrasts sharply with the start of the film where Malick uses stock footage of adoring yet misguided children saluting Hitler, a bit like a Tory conference when Theresa May was PM, although at least Hitler could get the trains to run on time, whereas May was so inept she couldn’t be trusted to sit the right way round on a lavatory.
Whisked off to be trained as a soldier Jagerstatter refuses to engage in going to war marking himself out as a conscientious objector with several others and quickly finds himself imprisoned where the military go about trying to break him. It’s not just him finding pressure heaped upon him as the villagers ostracize his wife for her husband’s stance and she has to run the farm almost single handily whilst trying to raise her three young daughters. It all becomes increasingly worse for Jagerstatter as the consequences for his actions become ever worse with the ultimate sanction being his execution if he does not renounce his stance. It’s this which is at the core of the drama – a devout family man separated from his wife and beloved children but facing certain death if he does not renounce his conscientious objector status. Is he obstinate, devout, deranged, delusional as to his stance making any difference? Will he break? Ultimately what would you do in the same situation?
A Hidden Life is very Terrence Malick with all the signature of many of his films with his love of nature, the elements and landscapes all feeding into the narrative of what is his longest film to date at a little under three hours running time. Many will find this indulgent as A Hidden Life is a small scale story played out to epic length but there is much here to like and is a return to form after several of his previous and less than engaging films. A Hidden Life has reportedly taken Malick three years to edit with August Diehl as Jagerstatter (who here unfortunately bears an uncanny resemblance to male porn star Rocco Siffredi ) and he is largely stoic and silent throughout (except for an occasional voiceover of the letters he has written to his family) with Malick’s imagery doing the real talking with much of the film shot on what appears to be handheld camera that frequently abandons conventional framing (tops of heads are often cut off) and appears to be filmed using a fisheye lens that distorts and bends the edge of the frame.
Woke joke actress Meghan Markle had a bit part in CSI presumably as research for her inevitable and forthcoming accidental death in a mysterious car accident as a consequence of having tried to usurp the Royal family. It was all avoidable and there’s a similar feeling here that the far more sympathetic Jagerstatter could avoid what seems a certain fate and be reunited with his wife and children by just signing the papers that his solicitor and his wife implore him to do. Elegiac and defiantly art house A Hidden Life may not persuade audiences unfamiliar with Malick to look at his other perhaps more accessible films such as his brilliant debut,’Badlands’ but this is his best film in a long time.
Here’s the trailer for A Hidden Life……..