Terrence Malick’s World War II period drama, A Hidden Life, is one of those lengthy films that feel every single minute of its three-hour run time.
When it comes to a director like Malick, he’s not for everyone. Take it from someone who came away from The Tree of Life thinking it was one of the worst films of the year. Listen, the cinematic visuals of the Austrian scenery can be breathtaking. However, this doesn’t change the fact that getting through three hours was a serious struggle. There are three-hour films that go at a brisk pace. This film doesn’t and it’s not even close.
The gist of the film is that Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) refused to pledge loyalty to Hitler and fight for the Nazis. Going into the war, Franz lived at home with his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and their children. As France surrenders and Franz comes home, the family is also joined by Fani’s sister, Resie, and Franz’ mother. This is a lot of people under one roof! While he would pay for his life in the long-term, he wasn’t going to blindly follow leadership in the short-term. Austrian neighbors saw him as a traitor but Franz somehow knew that Jews were not the enemy. Maybe this film is an example of what happens when one blindly follows their leaders. Actions come with consequences. Unfortunately, the cost of not fighting in support for the Nazis came with his life.
One of the things that the film does show is the extent that the Catholic Church supported the Nazis. We see this when Franz seeks a conversation with the priest. The priest in turn decides to see counsel with the bishop. This is a stark reminder that the Catholic Church isn’t exactly innocent when it comes to the Holocaust. This shows by way of their pleading Franz to change his mind. Would it prevent his execution? Sure, it would. But to do so would come at a cost of his moral conscience.
We see the toll that his actions take on his family. His heart may have been in the right place but it wouldn’t be without consequences. Speaking as someone who is Jewish and lost family during the war, one can’t help but thank Franz for his brave sacrifice. In a perfect world, he would have stayed alive. In watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder as to just when the Allied Forces would arrive and save the day. D-Day is still months away when the film comes to a conclusion in August 1943.
A Hidden Life may be based on a true story but it’s way too long.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Terrence Malick
CAST: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti, Bruno Ganz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karin Neuhäuser, Ulrich Matthes