Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Karin Neuhauser
Director: Terrence Malick
Running Time: 174 mins
A Hidden Life is an American film about the true story of an Austrian farmer who, following the German occupation of the country, refused to fight for the Nazis in World War Two.
As is always the case with director Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life provides thought-provoking and transcendent drama presented in a challenging manner, never making for an easy watching, but always providing spectacular and powerfully introspective depth.
In that, there’s no getting away from the value of A Hidden Life in its presentation on themes of political repression, the history of the Nazis and the spread of ideology, as well as philosophical ideas about mortality, humanity and saintliness. As a result, there’s more than enough at play over the course of this film’s three hours, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a staggering watch.
Its ideas are certainly powerful and intelligent all the way through, but for at least the first two-thirds of its runtime, A Hidden Life really struggles to get under your skin in its portrayal of repression and the power of an ideology, unfortunately never hitting home in the way it means to for a very long period of time.
The story of one farmer who stood up to the spread of the Nazi ideology by refusing to fight for the cause in the Second World War, A Hidden Life shows how encroaching political repression and lack of freedom of thought can impact not just one life, but an entire community, as we see him hounded by authorities and ostracised by his fellow villagers.
With a commentary on the spread of ideology and misinformation that has clear parallels to the modern day, director Terrence Malick is drawing a pointed connection between history and modern politics, and while it’s a striking theme, it never really stirred me up on the emotional side of things.
Because, while this farmer sees his life turned entirely upside down just for expressing a difference of opinion, the film doesn’t do enough to show what’s actually most unnerving about the scenario, and that’s the sense of scale of brainwashing and influence from the party machine that causes those around him to turn against him too.
Political repression from the authorities is upsetting to see, but what should have been even more harrowing is the portrayal of ordinary people turning viciously against one another based on nothing more than what they’ve come to believe at the hands of a propaganda machine. Sadly, those moments never hit home in particularly powerful fashion, and prove the key part of what I could only see as a rather disappointing first two hours.
The film’s final act, however, is entirely different. Shifting focus from often poorly-executed historical and political themes, A Hidden Life takes on a powerfully spiritual persona, looking into the nature of faith in the face of adversity, as well as ideas of saintliness as a marker of historical good.
With our main man becoming increasingly encroached upon throughout the story, his freedoms and rights are impeded as he holds strong in his staunch position against fighting for something he believes is wrong.
And in that, alongside its numerous references to religion and faith, A Hidden Life begins to show him in a saintly light, taking all the hits possible and throwing none back – all in the name of what he believes is right, no matter what the cost.
It’s a brilliantly powerful final act that really hits home, and with such deep and thought-provoking themes as it builds to a staggering finish, it demonstrates what this film is really capable of, with such impressive talent behind the camera and on screen, coupled with a transcendent musical score and deeply gorgeous cinematography.
Overall, A Hidden Life undoubtedly hits home like few other films, even if it takes a while to get there. Its depth and intelligence are undeniable, with introspective and powerfully thought-provoking themes playing out through the medium of stunning visuals and captivating directing and performances. The film isn’t perfect all the way through, and certainly strengthens late on, but it’s a powerful and memorable watch nonetheless, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.3.