Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karin Neuhauser, Michael Nyqvist
Whenever atrocities occur domestically or globally in the past, individuals looking back mention that they would have stood against those evils. Therefore, speaking against those who stood by and let things happen. These statements make us feel better but Terrence Malick brings that reality to the 21st century with his depiction of integrity and faith in the face of evil.
Living his happy life with his wife and children in Austria, Franz (August Diehl) receives the call to serve for the German army during World War II. He serves his time and returns to his home where he hopes to live the rest of his days with his family. Suddenly, a new call asks Franz to join again and swear allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich, which he refuses to do because of the evils being done by that regime. This leads to his arrest and his family being harassed for being traitors.
Based on a true story and more important to tell now than ever, the tale of Franz and his decision to stand for his faith still resonates. It shows the power of the individual and the greatness that can occur when standing tall. It all stems from the evils of the Nazi regime, which he witnessed on his first tour and then refused to answer the call once again. That experience alone forged a belief so strong that he would never break. Through this film, Terrence Malick holds the mirror back to us about where our integrity stands to things happening today.
With the rise of Neo-Nazis espousing beliefs that should have been eradicated from the human vernacular for decades now, Malick wants to know what we are doing now to resist injustices. It’s quite easy to sit back now and say that we would stand tall against what the Nazis did, but look at the atrocities happening in the 21st century and how we have sat idly waiting for the next football game to start. What would be the breaking point for us to say enough is enough? Keep in mind, Franz makes this decision without even knowing about the concentration camps occurring around Europe. He makes the right decision with limited knowledge due to his principles.
Terrence Malick presents himself as a director that can be appreciated once you jump onto his wavelength. A legend in filmmaking that likes to throw out abstract ideas, use plenty of voice over, and not always utilizing an actual plot. At times it feels like a collection of ideas being stitched together into a feature film. When at his best, they come together with a beautiful message and other times it feels empty. Regardless, he always creates works that provoke thought like The Tree of Life or Days of Heaven. With A Hidden Life, he has a firm plot and adds his voice over to a beautiful effect. Much of it used for the letters shared by Franz and his wife as they each struggle with the decision he made. The struggle not lying with why he made the decision, but the impact with the people around them.
Shortly after Franz refuses to swear an oath to the Third Reich, his family begins to receive harassment from other people in their small town. Individuals that respected his family quickly turned against them as soon as Franz refused to participate with evil. Before Franz loses his freedom and gets arrested, he sits down with his bishop to discuss the morality of his decisionmaking. During the conversation, the clergyman discusses that God teaches to obey the laws of your nation. A belief that their savior, Jesus Christ, did not follow when he witnessed injustices occurring. It further goes to show the systemic issue of standing strong. Even those who are meant to give spiritual fortitude were powerless to the power of the Nazi regime, but Franz refused to stand down. In essence, he showed more integrity, as one individual, than the Catholic Church and all of the other people around him.
As with any Malick film, it comes packaged with beautiful cinematography and a riveting score. James Newton Howard returns and composes a touching score that evokes the beauty contained between the pain. The story shows the moments when Franz and his wife Franziska first met and kindled the burning love that would carry them until the end. The cinematography beautifully captures the Austrian countryside and shows the beautiful paradise Franz gives up for his beliefs. It also shows the depravity and brutality of his jail cells and the conditions he’s kept in. A stark contrast that makes the decision all the more heartbreaking to witness.
To survive the torturous life he chose, Franz hangs onto his faith. He uses it as a shield from the evil deeds he would be forced to do. He sacrifices everything he worked for in order to do it, but he knows he must do the right thing. Many can say they would stand just like he would, but there’s more happening now than he knew of and not many are standing firm like him.