In Brief: No one makes more interesting movies than Terrence Malick. They’re always too long but in his case, too long is also very good.
A Hidden Life isn’t about someone hiding. The main character wants to hide but doesn’t. Not really. Set in Austria at the outset of World War II, the film follows real life conscientious objector Franz Jagerstatter. He is portrayed as a simple farmer living with his lovely wife and kids in nice digs in a small village way high in the Austrian Alps.
Jagerstatter is not all that thrilled with Adolf Hitler and his Nazis and decides to not participate in the war. That gets him arrested and jailed and — knowing what you do about the Nazis — you can take it from there.
Writer/director and master of the visual metaphor, Terrence Malick crafted his screenplay from letters sent between Jagerstatter and his wife Fani. He shows the misery of the family sans their breadwinner, how abused they are by villagers who think he ought to serve, and Malick shows Jagerstatter incarcerated with all those nasty Nazis.
When it comes to Malick movies not much ever gets hidden. Sometimes a plot maybe but not much else. Everything in a scene is fair game to be focused upon and scrutinized. Often it’s not just once. Return visits to a tree, or a field, or a house, or a room are common.
Malick’s camera is eternally restless and in constant motion. It pans out, zooms in, starts, stops, searches and then starts over again. And then sometimes again is thrice, or four times, or more.
Characters are placed within a film frame. They’re posed, prodded, poked. Most are in some sort of stress, and almost always have a far off look like they’d rather be somewhere else.
Or maybe it’s because they’re deep in thought. That’s what you’re supposed to think. I often think Malick’s actors look that way because they’ve been stuck in the same pose or the same scene for hours and all they want to do is head back to their trailer and have a beer or something.
What passes for the acting is phenomenal. August Diehl plays Jagerstatter and Valerie Pachner is his wife Fani. Others passing through the movie are Marie Simon, Karin Neuhauser, Tobias Moretti, Matthias Schoenaerts, Franz Rogowski, Karl Markovics, Bruno Ganz and Michael Nyqvist. They — like Diehl and Pachner — spend a lot of time posed and very little time doing dialogue.
It sounds like I don’t like Malick’s movies. Don’t get me wrong. I love his movies. Malick movies are an experience. I loved 1999’s A Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life from 2011. Malick got best directing Oscar nominations for both. Even if you don’t understand them, Malick is — if nothing else — entertaining.
“A Hidden Life” does have a plot that is easy to understand. The story has enough in it to last — oh — half an hour. The movie goes on for three. It’s an hour too many. Most of Malick’s movies are an hour too long. But what a brilliant hour it turns out to be.
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Marie Simon, Karin Neuhauser, Tobias Moretti, Matthias Schoenaerts, Franz Rogowski, Karl Markovics, Bruno Ganz, Michael Nyqvist
Rated R for very mature themes and violence. No one does movies as metaphor better than Terrence Malick. Even if you don’t quite understand what’s going on or what he’s doing, his films are amazing. Rate this one a 4 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.