A Hidden Life
review by Bobby Blakey
Tree of Life director Terrence Malik always offers up some interesting ideas and thought provoking films in his work. While they haven’t all worked for me there is no doubt in his vision or the amount of talent he attracts to every project. His latest film A Hidden Life looks a bit different than his previous work and appears to be back into a linear style, but with Malick you know you are in for something special and unique. Could this true story showcase the power of standing up for your beliefs or should it just give in to the pressure?
A Hidden Life follows Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II. After being absent from his wife and daughters for months during mandatory basic training with the German Army, Franz is permitted to return to his peaceful Austrian countryside home. But when the war unexpectedly escalates, Franz is called up to fight, and as a new soldier, to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich. Yet, despite pleas from his neighbors, fellow soldiers and even trusted clergymen, Franz repeatedly refuses to take the oath. This decision lands the peasant farmer in prison, where he awaits trial for treason. Meanwhile, not only must Fani take care of the family’s farm and their three daughters, she is ostracized by neighbors who have succumbed to the Third Reich’s demands for loyalty.
I only saw one trailer for this film and found the concept interesting and hoped for it to pack the punch that this story deserved. Sadly while a great film it didn’t pack near as much of a punch overall that I expected or think it should have. I really enjoyed the movie overall that is yet another insanely sad story of real moment in history. As it begins to set up there is a great use of the montage and daily life to bring you into the world of this family and their small village. The use of the beautiful landscapes as location and backdrop make this sad tale a visual treat that truly stands out. Sadly this treat for the senses is the back drop of war, death and sadness.
Everyone here gives great performances as it takes this emotional journey of someone standing firm in their beliefs no matter the cost it takes on themselves and family. You are taken through two side of the story from both Franz and his wife. After seeing the family dynamic we are taken on the journey as Franz leaves for mandatory training with the German army while his wife struggles to take care of their children and home. This is an interesting dynamic, but it is a strange dynamic of the random things it shows. It works and is interesting, but seems to drag out a little long in relation to the real story that it is heading towards.
Once we get to the meat of it all which involves the defiance of Franz against swearing his allegiance to Hitler I expected it to be an emotional punch in the gut. Once again it is still good and engaging, but it drags some elements out so long and feels likes it is about to end a few times that it is hard to stay with it. Make no mistake this is a powerful story of standing your ground to what you believe and does its job, but I think it having so much to focus on kind of slowed down its impact. The ending seemed to just kind of come and go without that extra something I had hoped for. There is still a lot of power in the film, but it was just missing something more for me.
I think they could have trimmed the film a bit, but it still delivers a powerful story that should be seen. It is a powerful message to one’s morale stance that I hope resonates with people that stick it out. Grab your copy of A Hidden Life available now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.