Although “A Hidden Life” takes place in early-1940s Austria – an era of hell on earth for much of Europe – the sound to be wary of in director Terrence Malick’s latest film isn’t sirens signaling an incoming blitzkrieg, but the chirp of a bell. A bike-riding messenger makes increasingly regular visits to the idyllic mountain valley village that is home to August Diehl’s Franz Jägerstätter, who exchanges concerned looks with his wife, Franziska. They’re awaiting the inevitable, and the day they’re dreading eventually arrives: There’s a message for him. It’s time to march for Hitler.
But he’s concrete in his resolve to abstain, even through arrest, imprisonment and abuse. The idea of being on the frontlines doesn’t frighten him; rather, he refuses to swear loyalty to nationalistic attitudes that have begun to invade the consciences of the other farmers he has worked, drank and lived alongside all his life. Exercising free will, Franz insists, has to be more than swearing blind allegiance. For him, that extends to challenging it.
With “A Hidden Life,” Malick has his most exceptional work in years, even as his devotion to impressionistic storytelling increasingly goes against the grain of cinema on the cusp of a new decade. Set to release in late December, this may very well be the last film of the 2010s worthy of the term “profound.” It’s a different kind of war epic (clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s the director’s longest movie in 21 years), one in which ideologies are the artillery, perseverance the battle strategy and victory achieved through martyrdom in the dark. Continue reading →