Right at the death of the year, I’ve seen the best film of 2019. Terence Malick used to be everyone’s favorite director back when he worked away from Hollywood having directed two masterpieces in ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven.” Suddenly after a 25 year absence he returned with the excellent Thin Red Line. Then things went a little pear-shaped as he made a series of films with ever diminishing returns. So I wasn’t expecting much from his latest ‘A Hidden Life,’ which turns out to be a masterpiece that beautifully plays to all this idiosyncratic directors strengths.
The story is about an Austrian farmer, Franz Jagerstatter, conscripted by Nazis during WW2 who comes to the realization that he can not fight for an army which he believes is morally wrong. He is soon arrested and refuses even to work as a medical orderly if it means swearing allegiance to Hitler and his Third Reich. This all seems to make Franz a man beyond reproach but it becomes clear his act of heroism is also an act cruelty towards wife and young family who are soon ostracized by the conformist farming community. This tension between doing what is morally right and doing harm to those you love gives the story its narrative edge and makes a movie that is essentially quite elegiac and slow some real power.
Of course it goes without saying that it is beautifully shot. He is possibly the most visually compelling director of his generation. The natural imagery so beloved by Malick is in there in full force and gives the film a biblical tone similar to that in Days of Heaven. I’ve read a couple of quite bizarre negative reviews one saying Terence Malick cant do it a good film about Austria because he’s lived in a remote farm int he Tyrol and another criticizing him for a pacifist. Quite bizarre and definitely to be totally ignored.