A Hidden Life is like church. It’s solemn, reassuring and way too long

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

A Hidden Life
Roxy Theatre

Opens Friday 17
3 out of 5

When A Hidden Life premiered at Cannes last May, many, many critics went for the “return to form” trope. I beg to differ. Terrence Malick has never been as good as people seem to believe.

(Ducks for cover from Malickacolytes)

Let’s dissect his filmography: One masterpiece (Days of Heaven), two okays (Badlands, The New World) and the rest. As someone who sat through the unbearable trio To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and Song to Song I say Malick bought into his own hype and thought any half-cooked rumination of his was gold.

With A Hidden Life, he seems to have snapped out of it. Sure, the portentous, lyrical voiceovers are still there. But at least there’s a story worth telling underneath.

Based on real events, A Hidden Life tells the story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), one of the very rare conscientious objectors the Nazis had to deal with. A practicing Catholic, Jägerstätter saw through the Third Reich bull and refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Hitler  — never minding that friends and neighbours would turn on him and his family instantly. Not only would Franz not serve in the army, he wouldn’t even accept a non-combat role.

Sure, having the strength to stand against unimaginable evil is admirable. But whether Malick makes his point successfully or not is worth discussing. A Hidden Life celebrates Franz and his wife’s faith, they find sustenance in God as they endure punishment and humiliation. Yet all the looking at the sky for guidance and endurance doesn’t pay off. One can’t help but thinking, what was the point of all that praying.

(Ducks for cover from Catholics)

If nothing else, A Hidden Life is about the journey. The cinematography is stunning (think The Sound of Music, except much sadder and with more violence and less singing), and August Diehl’s performance keeps the movie from becoming repetitive. If you want to indulge your sense of righteousness and have three hours to spare, this is the movie for you.