In Terrence Malick’s harrowing new WWII drama, “A Hidden Life,” the majestic green valleys and epic mountain ranges of Radegund provide an epic natural backdrop for the internal struggle of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl). During the Nazi occupation of Austria, he famously refused to pledge loyalty to Hitler and was promptly executed in 1943.
Like many of the conflicted male protagonists dominating Malick’s surging output in the last decade, Franz spends much of the film silently coming to grips with the seismic consequences of his decisions. But what sets “A Hidden Life” apart from, say, “Knight of Cups” or “To the Wonder” is how Malick incorporates the dueling perspective of Franz’s wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) in ways that give both experiences equal importance.
There are multiple tiers of personal responsibility (to one’s country, family, self) that are complicated because of Franz’s moral predicament. He wears these stresses stoically on his face, but eventually the pressure becomes insurmountable, mostly because the close-knit rural community where he lives eventually turns angry and resentful. This reveals how the slow, steeping sway of fascism can turn vulnerable people into desperate aggressors.
Malick’s swooning aesthetic places Franz within poetic images and a densely layered sound design, which is then complemented by melancholic voice-over narration. Each character reads aloud letters they wrote during the most tumultuous and dangerous times.
Interestingly, what begins as an almost instinctual decision by Franz to go against the grain and defy Nazism eventually becomes fundamental; his resistance ends up being an organic part of his relationship with Franziska. That’s not to say doubt isn’t a constant bedfellow.
But “A Hidden Life” (opening Friday, December 20) dares to place these competing human emotions side by side. In doing so, Malick addresses the malleable nature of our value systems, especially when they are under attack by nefarious outside forces.
“A Hidden Life:” In his typically sweeping style, filmmaker Terrence Malick tells the story of Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätte, who defied Hitler by refusing to pledge loyalty to the Nazi party during WWII. Opens Friday, December 20, at Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas and Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas.
“Bombshell:” Amid a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny, three female reporters at Fox News decide to blow the whistle on a toxic atmosphere created by long-known creep executive Roger Ailes. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.
“Cats:” Tom Hooper adapts the famous Broadway musical about a bunch of feisty felines who sing and dance in an urban sprawl. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.
“Downtown 81:” Writer and Andy Warhol associate Glenn O’Brien, Swiss photographer Edo Bertoglio, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti innovator and noise music artist who’d just begun to exhibit his paintings, hit the streets of lower Manhattan to make a movie about the bombed-out bohemia they knew. Opens Friday, December 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
“Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker:” The finale to this epic space opera that finds heroes Rey, Finn and Poe helping lead the resistance against Kylo Ren and his forces of darkness. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.
“Varda by Agnès:” The late, trailblazing French director Agnès Varda takes the viewer on a journey through her acclaimed six-decade career in this loving, melancholic documentary. Opens Friday, December 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
“When Lambs Become Lions:” In the Kenyan bush, a small-time ivory dealer fights to stay on top while forces mobilize to destroy his trade. Opens Friday, December 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One Time Only
“All About Me:” During the early 1970s in Ruhr Valley, Germany, a pudgy 9-year-old growing up in the security of his family and fun-loving relatives. However, dark shadows soon loom over the boy’s everyday life as his once cheerful mum becomes more and more depressed after an operation. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, December 20, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
“Downton Abbey:” The wealthy Crawley family and their staff prepare to welcome the Royal Family for a visit in this feature length sequel to the television series of the same name. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, December 20, and Saturday, December 21, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
“Suck Me Shakespeer:” Somebody built a school gym directly over the stolen cash his girlfriend buried for him. And now, ex-con Zeki Müller has no choice but to pass himself off as a substitute teacher at Goethe Comprehensive School, thus providing the German educational system with one more problem, i.e. the craziest teacher of all time. Screens at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, December 22, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.