In reality, it’s not really for anyone, there’s little enjoyment about the way A Hidden Life presents itself, but it becomes a feature that feels as if has worth and is therefore worth watching
Is a sole individual’s personal struggle, both moral and physical, worth the sheer hardship it can often become chained to? Terrance Malick, the critic-favourite feature director, returns with a lengthy look at the moral hardship that came with the Second World War, specifically those ordered to join the Nazi uprising, who disagreed with the actions of the Third Reich. Questioning the morality of what one would do if put in the same position is a key part of understanding what gives A Hidden Life its longevity. Far from the perfect piece, it’s a very flawed production, but its ability to ask the questions it intended is essentially unparalleled by modern cinema on a philosophical level.
Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) an Austrian hilltop farmer is called upon by the German army to serve in the Second World War. Entirely opposed to the views and morals of the Nazi regime, Franz refuses to fight, opening him to the destruction the Third Reich brings upon deserters and conscientious observers. Leaving behind a small village and his family, Franz is held captive and interrogated as if he were a viscous criminal.
Endlessly long, and overbearing when it doesn’t need to be, A Hidden Life is impossibly arthouse, and particularly amateurish in its style; naturally a choice made my Malick, but that doesn’t stop it becoming a difficult watch. There’s an ultimate sense of worth about the way A Hidden Life composes itself, and that seems to go a long way to giving it the gravitas it possesses, almost as if it suggests that it’s quality is held within its ability to seem natural and realistic. It’s a feature, that if it weren’t so Avant Garde and forecful, would fit snugly into the tagline ‘not for everyone’. In reality, it’s not really for anyone, there’s little enjoyment about the way A Hidden Life presents itself, but it becomes a feature that feels as if has worth and is therefore worth watching, however much it actually takes effort to keep attention.
It’s directorial choices are often fascinating, and it owes a lot to the golden age of cinema, but with such a heavy story, it gets bogged down by deluge of pain and grief. The inevitability of the tough times shadow the entire piece, becoming a credit to Malick for creating such a comprehensive work of unrelenting film making. However amateurish it may look, there’s a real quality in producing a piece of this nature and making it work. A Hidden Life documents a difficult time in history wonderfully well.
As far as modern pieces go, A Hidden Life obviously lacks entertainment, excitement and joy, but it was never a film that wanted that. It wants to provoke questions and inform, which it does admirably and effortlessly. Yet it would be tough to recommend or return to, with such a difficult set of features to sell, but it’s quality is there and its theming is set up perfectly. It’s merely a film that one will need to self ponder, because there will be few who make it to the end once it leaves cinema schedules worldwide.