Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life -- a review by Captain HE
(with connective tissue, written by Guy S. Malone, Researcher, because, truth be told, sometimes Captain HE's brilliance has to be translated into English)

"...the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
-- George Eliot

How many know who Franz Jägerstätter is?  Hands?  We certainly didn't until he became the protagonist of Terrence Malick's newest film about Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl), a conscientious objector who refused to sign a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler and fight for the Nazis in World War II.  Franz and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) have an idyllic life, raising their three daughters on a lush farm outside St. Radegund, a village nestled in the picturesque Austrian Alps.  Franz and Fani thresh grain together on golden fields, lift their children to pick apples in sun-dappled orchards, dance and drink beer with villagers at local festivals, and pray devoutly every day.  Suddenly, the thunder of warplanes herald events that will change their lives forever. 

Terrence Malick has come out of the woodwork more in the past ten years (four feature films and six documentaries/shorts) than he did in the first 40 years of his career (four films, one short).  Many feel his past ten years have been uneven, indulgent even, though we believe 2010's The Tree of Life is a masterpiece, and the main thing keeping  A Hidden Life from that level is its hefty (and indulgent) 174-minute runtime.  That length blunts the power of the message and the central theme. Perhaps, he sees this as his magnum opus and was unwilling to pare it down. Personal letters exchanged between Franz and Fani, the primary source material around which Malick crafted the screenplay almost became secondary.  Jörg Widmer's sweeping and magnificent cinematography, depicting the beauty of God's creation, coupled with the continuous examination of man's reason for existence was the core of the story.  James Newton Howard's score, which infuses classical strains that also incorporated Radegund's church bells, switching scythes, buzzing from the sawmill, cow and sheep bells, and other natural sounds emphasize the pastoral ambiance Malick was surely going for.

The all-abiding faith of Franz and Fani is their rock, the foundation that provides the strength that sees them through the worst that war can inflict on them.  And that faith is tested throughout.  Sadly, that faith commitment is not seen in the local priest and bishop (Michael Nyqvist, in his last role); they are exposed, as is the Church, in the tolerance/fear of Hitler's regime. The central characters continually referenced Christ and His persecution, their faith in God and the purpose of man's existence, hoping for salvation from their existential hell. Some scenes illustrate this, the sharing of vegetables, the doubling of the grain, the love and forgiveness of family, the sharing of bread in the prison yard. But, ultimately, like Christ, Franz must suffer because collectively, man can't overcome himself. He must continually start over, he must rebuild and replenish the land. The struggle continues.

The film would provide an excellent complement to a philosophy or Western Civ course. Through spiritual symbolism juxtaposed with Church survival tolerance, Franz's life brings the true meaning of spiritual freedom. He references this in his refusal to sign the loyalty oath to gain his freedom from prison. "I am already free" he replies.  And it is Fani's innate goodness that brings the ascendance of the species through the female drive to replenish and rebuild.  Franz's mother, who always disapproved of Fani, finally says" He changed when he met you."  The seasons change and Nature rolls inexorably on, proof that our lives make hardly a ripple in the world   The only mark we make is on other people, and even that, as the George Eliot quote says, is "unhistoric", "a hidden life."  Any film that makes one think and share and postulate to such an extent is a great film.  HE rates A Hidden Life 9.0 on an Artistic Scale, with it's meandering (not quite glacial because we can see it move) pace making it 7.5 on an Entertainment Scale.  Let's make it:
8.5 out of 10


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