Movie Review: ‘A Hidden Life’ is a little rough around the edges despite its visual beauty
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
Synopsis: The Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector, refuses to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
Terrence Malick has returned. There was a time when that phrase was a lot more significant. Not because the relevance or quality of Malick’s films have dropped per se, but because of how frequently he now releases his projects of void-like notions. Since his acclaimed outing of The Tree of Life, it hasn’t been a strange occurrence to see a new outing from him every 2-3 years. And while A Hidden Life is plausibly his most devoted work of art since the former, I don’t think it assumes the role of this grand payoff of artistic integrity that others might perceive it to carry.
There’s no condemning Malick’s eye for imagery. We’ve taken note of this in his previous projects and even so with the most recent string of impromptu contemporary-set films. There are flooring instances of countryside scenery throughout the film. DP Jörg Widmer (who has never worked with Malick prior fascinatingly enough) is an absolute marvel. The elegance of using natural lighting against the depicted Austrian landscape is a challenge in itself. Yet Widmer amply construes every ounce of frame through the entrancing picture-esque terrain that in some ways resembles that of desktop wallpaper (which is more of a compliment than anything). It’s all positioned at the center of this conflict by displaying beauty even at the stigma of affliction, albeit intermittently.
While complaints are evident about the somewhat swift and unorthodox editing style, I think it sits well as an underlying companion for the film. The movie, moreso the first hour, entails a lot of exposition and implementation of the main relationship at hand (as expected) through the lens of these very compiled factions of clips. Comparing it to something episodic has become an over-hashed trope of detail for recent films, but this principle of editing feels more like an exertion of creative power rather than a gimmick – especially since it was Malick who edited it himself. It aides vastly in keeping the audience to the fullest depth of intrigue even with its slow-burning culmination of action.
I reward the film’s diligence and centerpiece of focus in its runtime, as it really does expand itself across the entire 175 minute span. It stays committed through this wobbly way of extrapolating sympathy from the viewer. These sequences of greenery and wildlife that instill you into a state of home, which then eventually switches to a brief dialogue/voiceover of the characters justification or explanation of their actions. It feels overtly acquired yet not earned. It’s actually what induced my loss of early interest that I had for the film. Diehl and Pachner both give very humane performances, despite them being directly subdued under the conscience of the movies themes of decadence that can be bombarding at times. The two of them are both equally integral for the movie’s subtext of conflict and the core testament at heart. Which all in all, is actually no small feat considering this physicality the film has morphed into it.
There’s a lot of interesting sentiments about one’s own belief system and the triviality of behavior relating to the film’s setting, but it’s never in a semblance of cohesion. And even when it rarely is, it’s not enough to galvanize the viewer back in to it’s narrative. Once it’s all said and done, there’s a very drab bookend kind of closure. It feels relatively resolute just due to how grueling the emotional buildup to it is, but universally I just don’t think it’s thorough enough in terms of resonance. If the film had the ability to grip me all throughout it’s exploration of Jägerstätter’s resistance, then it could’ve worked well on its own.
I certainly wish I could’ve taken more from A Hidden Life, especially since his recent projects have been promising despite how little in artistic merit many have called them out for. What all of those had however, was this lingering spirit to them. The elegance of Malick’s presentation of commonality is what was so attractive. They were bombastic and exaggerated, and A Hidden’s Life’s conflict is delineated in such a monumental way. But it’s vacant of a sensibility to spark whoever may be watching it. I’m positive there’s a devout group of Malick fans out there – and even just specific audiences for that matter that are down for the ride of this one.
Overall Grade: C+
Hear our podcast review on Episode 359: