By Mónica Delgado
Again we face the Malick trademark. The elements are all there: atmospheric cameras always in unrest, melancholic voice overs spilling pseudo-existential reflections, and a soundtrack which completes the spiritual elevation of the characters. In Malick’s cinema, even a rusty chain, an old broom in a corner or a hairy worm over a letter seem transcendent. So, yes, A hidden life is more of the same.
With the usual “Based in true events” which we have seen more than once in this edition of Cannes, Malick stops for almost three hours to dwell in the WWII period, but through an Austrian farmer who refused to pledge loyalty to Hitler, and is taken prisoner for treason, leaving his home, a wife and three small daughters.
For Malick, the character of Franz Jägerstätter is cannon fodder for his idea of martyrdom. In his vision, a man who insists for years to live miserably in abusive prisons while his wife plows the land, drags oxen, sows potatoes, washes clothes and raises three daughters, can only be the feat of a martyr. Thus, for Malick the contrast of the suffering of the character at the expense of his stubbornness of militancy is not the war itself and its horrors, the fascism or Nazi brutality, but the excessively delivered side of a woman who stays in the field to support her home. The man is capable of dying for his convictions, while she is left like a symbol of understanding.
Even though this Manichaeism, of a beautiful, bucolic, pastoral world against the Nazi irruption of prisons and gray patios, A hidden life is a little bit more bearable than Malick’s previous film, but that isn’t even a redress. This is because there’s barely a historic lecture to question, and because its assignment of roles is profoundly conservative, even if it allows paying attention to the refined visual proposal, and its staging. There’s not a single bad photographed shot, despite it all.
Malick is an old school filmmaker, and that’s clear in the clumsiness in the use of language in the film For example, two characters playing Austrian people who speak in English, while every other character speaks in their native language. This creates an idiomatic intertwine, which is anecdotal, but again affirms which kind of cinema is Malick proposing today.
Directing, script: Terrence Malick
Cinematography: Jörg Widmer
Cast: August Diehl, Matthias Schoenaerts, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Jürgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz, Martin Wuttke, Karl Markovics, Franz Rogowski, Tobias Moretti, Florian Schwienbacher
Production company: Studio Babelsberg / Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg
USA – Germany; 180 mins, 2019