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With: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz, Michael Nyqvist
Written by: Terrence Malick
Directed by: Terrence Malick
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including violent images
Running Time: 174
Date: 12/13/2019

A Hidden Life (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Peace Entreaty

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No one quite captures nature's beauty and slowness as well as filmmaker Terrence Malick does, but his mastery only barely saves this three-hour long story full of misery, despair, and hopelessness.

In A Hidden Life, it's 1939 in Austria and farmer Franz (August Diehl) lives peacefully with his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) in a small village near the mountains. The war breaks out, and Franz is sent to basic training, but when France surrenders he is sent back home. Hoping the worst is over, the couple continues their life, working the farm, and raising three girls.

Unfortunately, Franz is called back to the war, where he is required to take an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Franz refuses, knowing the consequences. Franziska supports him, despite the fact that all their neighbors have begun to treat her as an outcast. He is arrested, and awaits the trial that will decide his fate.

Based on a true story, A Hidden Life certainly tackles important subjects, not only honoring the life and sacrifice of the real Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter, but also examining mob mentality, and the way that neighbor can turn upon neighbor over a belief, no matter how wrong-headed that belief may be.

Meanwhile, Malick's drifting, exploratory methods of filmmaking are a better fit for poetic impressions than they are for concrete stories and themes. He shows he doesn't quite have the temperament for smoothing out this story, making it flow, providing some ups to counterbalance the downs. And the running time becomes oppressive.

But there's no denying that A Hidden Life captures some truly striking small moments, such as the family playing in the grass beneath the mountains, the women harvesting crops, or men drifting around a prison yard, forbidden to speak. The late actor Bruno Ganz also makes a touching appearance as the judge who hears Franz's case.

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