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“A Hidden Life” Fighting an Internal War

 

 

 

Review by John Delia

Based on true events, the movie A Hidden Life takes you into Austria during the advent of WWII. It follows Franz Jägerstätter who became a martyr and later beatified by the Catholic Church for his deeds. The direction here is pinpoint, the acting extremely good and the cinematography exquisite. More than just a biography, the film shows the plight of the Austrians who were caught up in a conflict they had not beckoned.

The film opens in St. Radegund, Austria in the year 1939 as Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Franziska “Fani” (Valerie Pachner ) are tending chores on their farm. As they swing their scythes and till the soil with their bare hands, Franz and Fani endear each other with giggles and love of their simple lives. But, as Austrians they are in the sights of Germany that has already set up armies to invade their neighbors. Having been taken over by the Germans just a year before, the country was now under the behest of the Austrian Nazis and thus considered allies and an extension of their populace. “During World War II, every Austrian soldier called up for active duty was required to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler” – information provided in this statement by screenwriter for A Hidden Life and Wikipedia

August Diehl and Valerie Pachner in the film A HIDDEN LIFE. Photo by Reiner Bajo. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Being called up by the German Reich to serve, Franz finds the going easy and falls into line with other German soldiers in trailing. Meanwhile, women like Fani of Radegund are tending the farms and are working on the crops. As war comes closer to their country the people start to see the death and destruction caused by war. Harsh weather and with only her and her sister tending the farm, Fani gets some relief when Franz returns from training. Joy has replaced loneliness for Fani as she sees vitality coming back to her hardened life. But as the war gets worse for the Germans, they start to call back those that were released from duty served. As the village bell tolls, the story takes a morbid turn as Franz refuses to cooperate with the government becoming a conscientious objector.

The film goes on from their showing the involvement of the church, the mayor, townspeople and their children of the village, the police and then the government. Director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) moves his film along slowly giving you a chance to drink in the surroundings, the awesome countryside, the small village town centers, churches and local people. He shows the hard work of the farmer and their meager existence while he brings the life of Franz Jägerstätter to light. Covering all his carefree time in a loving countryside and then showing his working in fear, building anger with the war, and the unhappiness that’s compounded by hate being spewed out by Hitler.

August Diehl in the film A HIDDEN LIFE. Photo by Reiner Bajo. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Lifting a lid in that part of the world, we get to witness how the Germany has gone mad. And through the eyes of Jägerstätter we see the pathos of men who can see the folly of the psychological contamination of the people who became pawns in Germany’s final destruction. The acting is superb and the direction very good with minimal downside except for length of the film. The first half is an introduction, characterization and then setting up of the consequences. The second half takes you into Franz Jägerstätter destiny and the fate that awaits the decision on whether to resist or be sucked into the mire of a losing war to protect his family.

August Diehl gives a terrific performance as the man who finds himself with choices and destiny. From a hard working farmer to a man in turmoil, the arc is nicely completed giving viewers a show of love, romance, tribulation and sorrow in this nicely delivered movie. It’s the kind of role that an actor can display his best ability and here Diehl gives an outstanding show of his talent.

August Diehl in the film A HIDDEN LIFE. Photo by Reiner Bajo. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

While A Hidden Life is a bit long and could make the young crowd antsy, the film’s script carries a lot of compelling scenes that tell a complete and unpretentious story. To see it without issues make sure are able to sit for the whole 3 hours, bring a cushion to make the seat more contoured and if possible watch it at a theater that has the reclining chairs.

A Hidden Life has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material including violent images. Actual film footage of the Germans, Hitler and some fighting show up at intervals to impact a point. The film plays out in English.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A long, but very good movie for those that like a lot of drama. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information
Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
Directed and written by: Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line)
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including violent images
Running Time: 2 hrs. 54 min.
Opening Date: December 20, 2019
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Released in: Theaters

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