Terrence Malick is a fascinating oddity of cinema. After making two highly acclaimed features in the 1970s, he disappeared for two decades before returning sporadically until the 2010s, when he suddenly completed six features at a rapid-fire pace. This sudden burst of productivity did have a negative effect however. When a new Malick film was reviewed every handful of years, his visionary filmmaking style was exciting. However, getting a new one every year makes the cracks and repetitive elements so much more visible. While A Hidden Life is Terrence Malick’s best work since The Tree of Life, his aesthetic is in danger of becoming gimmicky.
A Hidden Life tells the story of Franz Jagerstatter (masterfully portrayed by August Diehl), an Austrian farmer who becomes a controversial figure in his hometown after refusing to go to war for Nazi Germany as a conscientious objector. Unlike the other recent conscientious objector war drama, Hacksaw Ridge, Malick refuses to see any bravery in military service, instead focusing on his hero’s bravery in the face of forced patriotism.
Herein lies the general issue with discussing this film within its own context. If the viewer is familiar with Malick’s work, they will surely be expecting the visual beauty of this film. While Emmanuel Lubezki was not responsible for the cinematography on this film, Malick’s style is still very much apparent, including the constantly moving camera and deep focus shots, along with the perfect score, costume design and all its other technical elements. This film is technically perfect. This is to say that, if the viewer has never seen a Malick film before or has managed to miss everything that quietly came out after 2011, this will be a revelation.
The issue comes for those who have been keeping up with Malick’s work since then. Everything he does is technically perfect, but that mechanical perfection becomes a bit predictable, especially if you find yourself sitting through almost three hours of it.
In short, A Hidden Life is a perfect film which will affect you differently based on how familiar you are with the filmmaker. Of course, if you are overly familiar with Malick, you will likely see this film anyway, so consider this a recommendation.
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