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A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick’s latest film is based on the true story of a conscientious objector in the era of Hitler. Franz owns a farm in Austria and is married to Franziska; they have three daughters. Franz goes off to basic training, and when he comes back, he decides that he cannot take the Hitler loyalty oath. As with most Malick films, this one requires patience. The film is long, at over 3 hours, and it is exquisitely shot and scored. I was bracing myself for a long film, but it seemed to fly by. Malick is known for his heavy themes, and this film is no different. He tackles with incredible detail the inner psyche and external reality of a family dealing with being a conscientious objector at a time when doing so was incredibly unpopular. There are several techniques Malick uses to help us understand Franz and Franziska. The beautiful score and cinematography provide a sharp contrast to the reality (and sometimes horror) of what Franz is going through, which makes his circumstances seem even more profound. Malick also has a knack for reading letters or dialoguing over ongoing cinematic narrative, helping to fill in rich details we might now otherwise gather from a standard linear narrative. I also like how Malick, in the same scene, jumps rapidly from position to position in the same scene. At first, it felt like there was something wrong with the editing, but it creates its own sense of discomfort, and it provides multiple perspectives, even from the same individual, in the same moment in time. You don’t see directly the violence inflicted on Franz, but because of the way he edited the film, you know exactly what is happening. The cinematography, score, and editing are masterfully crafted.  Big thumbs up for a film that takes place in 1940’s Germany but resonates today with its messages about organized religion, personal spirituality in the face of dire circumstances, and the power of a family to hold true to its principles in the face of adversity. (2019; 4.5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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