Friday, December 13, 2019

Movie with Abe: A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life
Directed by Terrence Malick
Released December 13, 2019

One of the most unforgettable summaries of persecution and standing up for others is Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came” poem, which expresses how not speaking out because you don’t fit the class being targeted ultimately results in no one being left when someone eventually comes for you. It’s an incredibly powerful sentiment, one that suggests that, if enough people refused to follow orders and go along with policies of hate and destruction, horrific events such as the Holocaust might not have happened. Seeing the consequences of making such a choice, however, can complicate the issue of just how possible defiance really is.

Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) is a farmer in a small village in Austria, living a pleasant life with his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner). After his three daughters are born, he is sent to war, returning after a short time. When he is called up again, he knows that he cannot ethically swear the oath of allegiance to Hitler now required of all servicemen. Shunned by those in his village and warned by everyone he meets that his resistance is not worth it, Franz remains steadfast. Even when he is imprisoned, Franz is determined to resist all efforts to dehumanize him and force him to surrender his conscience.

This affecting true story of a conscientious objector who simply knew that he had to stick to his principles and demonstrate that he felt that what the Nazis were doing on behalf of his country was wrong was an obvious choice for a cinematic adaptation. Terrence Malick, a director known for his wide camera shots and often endless, directionless narratives, has crafted a surprisingly on-target film that very effectively showcases Franz’s inner anguish and steely resolve to advocate for what he believes. It is indeed long and often slow, but its message is very successfully transmitted in this depiction of true courage.

Diehl, who memorably played a perfectly willing and villainous Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” says so much without words in this magnetic portrayal, and, as his wife, Pachner showcases a loyal partner who doesn’t see the necessity of her husband’s actions but appreciates his dedication to what he believes is right. The unfortunately Oscar-ineligible score by James Newton Howard is haunting and beautiful, and the cinematography, by Jorg Widmer, previously a camera operator for Malick’s regular director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, works wonders by making its sprawling scenery feel even more spectacular, contrasted sharply with Franz’s loneliness. This film may wander at times, but its overall journey is not quickly forgotten.


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