After spending an entire decade experimenting with ideas & feelings in his abstract works, all of which were filmed without a screenplay, Terrence Malick at last returns to a more familiar territory with A Hidden Life, for his latest is his first film in ages to employ a linear, plot-driven narrative structure and is inarguably his best one since The Tree of Life.

Written & directed by Terrence Malick (known for Badlands, The Thin Red Line & The New World), the film exhibits all his trademarks whether it’s the ethereal camerawork, graceful quality, religious themes, transcendent elements or spiritual soundtrack. However, with an actual story at its core, the rambling voiceover & philosophical musings here obtain a sense of direction.

A Hidden Life is the story of one man who refused to discard his beliefs & stood for what’s right even in the face of certain death, finding his strength in his unwavering faith and the love & support of his wife as he earns the scorn of the Nazis while his family is ostracised by the villagers. Much of the voiceover here relays the contents of letters written by these characters, which in turn also advances the plot.

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Shot in gorgeous locations & capturing the pristine beauty of its surroundings in an exquisite & intimate fashion, the film transports us to a paradise untainted by man’s destructive nature, and each frame of it is as spellbinding to look at as it is soothing in touch. Its 178 minutes runtime might seem intimidating but it is paced with such serenity that the narrative flow is smoother than all of the filmmaker’s recent works.

There are few moments that overstay their welcome plus there was room for more trimming as things get repetitive to an extent as the plot progresses but A Hidden Life is a better edited Terrence Malick film. One that at least knows where it is supposed to be headed. Also, equally worthy of mention is James Newton Howard’s elegant score which imparts an evocative feel & tenderness to its arresting images, thus uplifting the film some more.

A Hidden Life

August Diehl plays Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, the real-life devout Catholic & conscientious objector during World War II who was incarcerated & executed for undermining military actions. And Diehl’s performance articulates his determination & steadfast convictions with emotional precision. Valerie Pachner takes the role of his wife and renders her with sincerity. The film also marks the final appearance of Bruno Ganz & Michael Nyqvist, and they both chip in with fine work.

On an overall scale, A Hidden Life finds the esteemed auteur in complete control of his craft and is a much better & more accessible effort with a functioning narrative & interesting characters. Bringing the life story of Franz Jägerstätter to the film canvas in a way that’s not only rich, rewarding & satisfying but also surprisingly relevant, Terrence Malick’s latest marks his welcome return to form, and definitely ranks amongst the finest offerings of 2019. A cinematic gem that impresses on both technical & storytelling fronts, A Hidden Life is worth your time & money and comes thoroughly recommended.


A Hidden Life (2019) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia

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