“A Hidden Life” (PG) *****
THE eighth film directed by Terrence Malick since 1973 carries a message about confronting evil adversity.
Franz Jägerstätter’s formative experiences are pretty much over before the film starts. And happiness for him ends about half way through its 174-minute screen time.
Who’s Franz Jägerstätter? In life, he was a farmer living with a wife Fani and three small daughters in the low-tech upper Austrian village of St Radegund.
In 1943, Franz knew he was liable to be conscripted back into an army controlled by another Austrian whose evil was blighting Europe at that time (he had earlier served in the ranks). Franz knew that he would be required to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler. Franz also knew that as a committed Christian, he was not going to do that.
The film’s second half is based on Franz’s correspondence with Fani. And that powerfully-told late, indeed, last, period of Franz’s life is the core of the message that Malick is delivering.
It’s not proselytising about Christianity. It’s the story of a simple, morally-strong man who knew where his life was heading. August Diehl plays him so beautifully that realising, as the filmgoer intuitively does, that he is bound for unsung martyrdom is not so discomfiting as it might be.
The film focuses its admiration on Fani’s loyalty knowing that she must raise their daughters in an increasingly disapproving community. Valerie Pachner plays her with a poignant intensity that belies what must in reality have been a heart-rending sorrow.
There is little happiness in “A Hidden Life”. The St Radegund sequences are visually beautiful. The horrors of the prisons where the German police take Franz unfold as normality for time and place.
“A Hidden Life” marks the final performance of one of my cinema heroes, Swiss actor Bruno Ganz playing a military judge. Of the most maleficent portrayal of Hitler in cinema history in “Downfall” (2004), he was later quoted as saying: “Ultimately, I could not get to the heart of Hitler because there was none“.
I want people to see this film and pass the message on. I regret that I’m unable to promise entertainment. What I do promise is a powerful experience abundantly meriting those 174 minutes.
At Palace Electric and Dendy