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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

A Hidden Life (PG) - 174 minutes

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Defiance is at the heart of an artistic work from noted American filmmaker Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) set during the Nazi occupation of Austria during the Second World War.

A Hidden Life is based upon the true story of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian peasant farmer who refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler.

Born and raised in the village of St Radegund, Jägerstätter is farming his land when war breaks out.

Married to Fani (Valerie Pachner), the couple is very much in love and involved with the tight-knit community.

They live a simple life in the fertile valleys and mountains of upper Austria, with the passing years marked by the arrival of the couple’s three daughters.

When Franz is called up to basic training – a requirement for all Austrian men – he is away from his wife and children for months.

Eventually, when France surrenders and it seems the war might end soon, he is sent home.

His mother and sister-in-law come to live with them and for a while things seem to go on as normal.

But the war escalates and Franz and the other men in the village are called up to fight.

The first requirement of a new soldier is to swear loyalty to Hitler and the Third Reich, but this is where Franz is quietly resistant.

As you can imagine, there are consequences for him, his wife and family.

The film draws on actual letters exchanged between Franz and Fani while the former was in prison. Some lines have been added and sometimes the letters are paraphrased.

Slow moving and poetic, with striking visuals by Joerg Widmer (The Invisibles) – notwithstanding an excess of fisheye-style shots – A Hidden Life is a picture that bears no comparison.

Rather, it stands alone as a worthy contribution to capturing heroic acts in the face of barbarity and oppression.

You get a feel for the times and the locale where the shroud of the German jackboot took over and the contrast between what was and what is is marked.

Fear is the stock in trade as the community stands against the moral stance of Franz.

Importantly, the performances are strong and credible.

Still, I am not convinced an all but three-hour running time is warranted to tell the story. I see that as somewhat self-indulgent.

Two thirds of the way through A Hidden Life becomes even more lyrical – moving into heightened religious and mystical territory.

Still, it leaves an indelible impression. As such it will remain imprinted on my mind forever. 

Decidedly arthouse, it is a film that should have particular appeal to cinephiles.

Rated PG, it scores an 8 out of 10.


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