A Hidden Life Movie Review: Is this Terrence Malick’s Best Work since Tree of Life?

A Hidden Life Movie Review: Is this Terrence Malick’s Best Work since Tree of Life?

A Hidden Life is a profound and elegant anti-war statement

  • Movie Name A Hidden Life
  • Director Terrence Malick
  • Actor August Diehl, Valerie Pachner
  • Rating
  • Rating 3.5/5 Stars

Rating:*** ½ (3 and a half stars)

Many cineastes regard  Terrence Malick among the  most influential  and powerful living directors. His Tree Of Life features  in  almost every critics  all-time greatest lists. I have never been  a major Malick fan. His  over-long films are self-indulgent  distracted  unfocused works  of  splashy art.

There is  an abundance of visual resplendence in Malick often at the cost of the characters. His latest work, a punishing 3-hour excursion  adding up to  an elegiac  anti-war statement, captures  the  natural beauty of the Austrian  landscape… the peaks,  river, valleys, meadows and  streams, dwarfing the characters who  seem  to linger  in a lacuna  created by the langorous lyricism  of   the landscape.

A Hidden Life Movie Review: Is this Terrence Malick’s Best Work since Tree of Life?

Malick enjoys creating spaces  between his  characters and their  environment. Hence when Hitler and  his Nazi  genocide come  knocking at farmer  Franz (August Diehl)’s idyllic farm (lovely wife, passionate mother, ebullient  sister-in-law, three  lovely little  daughters and Mother Nature)  he refuses to surrender to  the travails of  tyranny.

Franz’s solitary resistence to Hitler (“Evil is evil.”)  is carried to extremes when Franz is jailed, tortured and  finally executed when all  he needed to do was  say ‘Heil Hitler’  and the  ‘inglorious  basterds’  (as Tarantino  so colourfully labelled them) would have been pacified.

But no. Franz would rather die than pretend  to be a Hitler fan. (Non-Salman fans, please  note). There is a sequence where he’s offered to sign a paper approving of Hitler which would kill his death sentence. Franz looks pleadingly towards his wife for  guidance. I was reminded of a similar sequence  in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam  where the self-destructive ideologue Dharmendra on his deathbed  is asked to sign a compromised  document that would ensure his  wife and son’s future.

Such an extreme idealistic is essentially a selfish man. The Hidden Life  doesn’t always show  Franz as a  glowing hero. The  question that his gracefully suffering wife Franziska(Valerie Pachner), ostracized  by her entire village, often asks herself  silently is, does the man she  love  so  unconditionally really love anything but his own idealism?

Such questions are  buried in  over-artful  visuals of the  splendorous  Austrian  landscape  and later, the bleak and brutal prison life. Somehow it all seems somewhat sterile and  self-serving. The Sound Of Music  setting  with the  closing WW2 references  from the  Julie Andrew  classic amplified  and stretched  into  three hours  of  touristy shots of Nature’s wonders and Man’s blunders while heavy boots thunder across  the  landscape. Cinematographer  Jörg Widme has a field day.

 I came away from A Hidden Life  profoundly impressed by its visual resplendence and the haunting elegiacal music score by  James Newton Howard. But the the film is emotionally shortchanged  by a director who just can’t stop admiring his own aesthetics.

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