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Cinematic Releases: A Hidden Life (2019) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 1248 days ago on Entertainment - Terrence Malick is and always will be an important contributor to the cinematic medium to learn from and respect.  He has also arguably hit a bit of an artistic rut in recent times following the heights defined by his still divisive Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life.  With his sprawling and abstract last three films Knight of Cups, Voyage of Time and Song to Song, we saw the once patiently planned and precise filmmaker rapidly churning out films whose signature style bordered on self-parody at best and indulgent at worst.  While not overtly bad (I enjoyed all three), for a filmmaker of Malick’s caliber the films presented for fans as well as detractors what appeared to be a moment of artistic crisis for the director.  Even publications such as Cineastecouldn’t help but wonder just ‘What the Hell happened with Terrence Malick?’, who with their lamenting piece took umbrage with the unchecked freedom the tools of digital filmmaking granted the auteur.  Whatever your stance on the new Malick is, clearly not everyone will agree on the value of his current output.I am pleased to report the writer-director seems to have listened to his detractors with his latest and startlingly straightforward offering A Hidden Life.  Based on the true life story of Franz Jägerstätter (played brilliantly by August Diehl), an Austrian farmer and eventual conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis during WWII before being arrested and sentenced to death for his defiance, A Hidden Life sees Malick pump the brakes in favor of telling his most linear and emotionally compelling story since his first WWII film The Thin Red Line.  While retaining his painterly visual style and mannered approach to editing, the subject and treatment proves to be much more broadly appealing despite amassing a dense three-hour running time.  Despite being in production since 2016 between the other aforementioned Malick films, customary of the director’s recent trend of numerous intersecting projects all happening simultaneously, the finished film is an intimately focused passion play of one man’s arrest and incarceration and his family’s ordeal of being ostracized and persecuted by fellow Austrian farmers.Much like Scorsese’s Silence, the film is a spiritual experience told as a visually spectacular period drama about finding enlightenment in the face of unspeakable atrocities.  Unlike Scorsese’s confrontational film, however, Malick’s A Hidden Lifeconcerns Franz’s ability to find meaning and reason to press on despite the weight of the world coming down upon him.  As with his previous features, whispered voiceover narration features heavily on the soundtrack though in the case of A Hidden Life it gels cohesively with the imagery and draws us further into Franz’s headspace.Sonically as with all of Malick’s films, the film is a thunderstorm of sound ranging from the pin-drop subtle to the lightning-cracking bombastic.  Aiding the film’s rich emotional center is James Newton Howard’s evocative orchestral original score, compounded with Malick’s frequent interspersing of preexisting classical tracks.  You always know when you’re listening to a Malick film as though you’re in the presence of a grand concerto, especially home video owners who always get a trusty director’s note that you should play the film loud.    Visually, thanks to cinematographer Joerg Widmer who was a longtime camera operator on many of Malick’s films, A Hidden Lifeis breathtakingly photographed, beautifully capturing the Austrian countryside in panoramic widescreen with the director’s trademark wide-angled lenses.  In one or two key sequences, the film even utilizes first-person point-of-view photographic techniques to further emphasize the film as both conventional narrative storytelling and experiential cinema.  All in all, it’s an achingly gorgeous piece to gaze upon.A Hidden Life, of course, would not exist without the right actor in the role of Franz and August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds; Salt) not only looks uncannily like the real man but he also exudes a variety of emotions in scenes that call for it.  Also turning over a strong supporting performance as Franz’s wife Franziska is Valerie Pachner who is forced to bear the brunt of being abandoned by her friends and family for standing with her husband.  A Hidden Life is noteworthy for also featuring veteran actors Jürgen Prochnow and Bruno Ganz (in his final film appearance), though largely Diehl and Pachner’s characters take center stage.With all of these elements combined leaving ample room for what is truly one of Terrence Malick’s very best films in years, A Hidden Life is a deeply moving ode to man’s capacity for courage to act righteous and good in an evil world even if he is unjustly punished for his actions.  For Malick, it’s his most focused and emotionally engaging film in years with lush scenery so staggering in scope it is sure to leave even the most jaded of the director’s detractors breathless.  Unquestionably among the finest motion pictures of 2019 and a real comeback for one of cinema’s most treasured craftsmen.--Andrew Kotwicki

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