In Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, the presence and weight of moral obligation are felt in practically every scene. Based on the life of Austrian World War II conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (played by Inglourious Basterds‘ August Diehl), the film clocks in at almost three hours — a length that may cause many of its brilliant, beautiful twists and turns to become lost in viewers’ restless longing for peace and security that, by design, never really subsides.
In fact, the proverbial knots grow tighter as Franz’s fate as a Nazi resister grows clearer and nearer, a tension aided by much of the film being shot from skewed angles that, particularly at the beginning, often suggest an innocent, childlike perspective. Augmenting this compelling visual approach, Malick turns his camera to colors, shadows and lighting that showcase nature’s spectacular sides within the film’s primary setting of picturesque, mountainous terrain and rolling farmlands.
Strangely enough, even A Hidden Life‘s darker scenes and settings still manage to bring in some kind of light and hope. They’re evident in the many warnings Franz receives from his countrymen — including the local priest — not to resist, as well as when he’s sent off to prison, leaving his wife Fani (Austrian actress Valerie Pachner), two children, mother and sister-in-law to fend for themselves. Inevitably, the family is ostracized by most of the village, but the wife continues to support her husband from afar, via letters and prayers.
Though A Hidden Life takes place in 1940s war-torn Europe, its focus on faith, duty, family and conviction remains potent and relevant today. The film is not just about resisting evil and doing the right thing — it also vividly portrays the suffering that comes with such bold life choices. At times, this film is difficult to watch, but it’s nevertheless worth the effort.
Starts Jan. 17 at Grail Moviehouse