Auteur Terrence Malick is at it again, projecting another frustrating piece of contemplative cinema in front of the masses, knowing full-well that only a small niche, spiritually-tuned audience will "get him." "A Hidden Life" isn't worth the struggle.
To say that Terrence Malick films are an "acquired taste" is putting it mildly, when other descriptive words could be used: Polarizing. Intellectual. Artistic. Maddening. His early works are considered masterpieces of film, from "Badlands" to "Days of Heaven" to "The Thin Red Line." Even more recent films like "Tree of Life," "To the Wonder" or "Knight of Cups" are united in the general reaction that Malick is working on another frequency altogether. Love his films or hate them, he's been called a visual poet and a master at the craft of film-making, even when his movies don't seem to connect.
"A Hidden Life" is right in his wheelhouse in that it is a movie that relies fully on visuals, and the beauty that Malick's eye can find in even the darkest and ugliest of places. It tells the story of an Austrian man, Franz (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and how they defied Nazi Germany and Hitler himself by refusing to fight in World War II. This all seems important and rife for compelling storytelling, but told by Malick, it's nearly rendered meaningless as the plot gets lost somewhere between the rolling hills and the looming mountains where the camera spends most of his time.
Malick may be a genius when it comes to film-as-poetry, but he walks on the edge of pretentiousness with "A Hidden Life." Surely, this 3-hour slog starts off with Malick's normal beautiful visual appeal, but the camera literally does the same thing for the ENTIRETY of the movie: Shot with a wide lens and from low angles, it swoops, pulls and pushes its way past its characters, sometimes concerned with what they're doing and at other times not so much. His "genius" turns into a gimmick, and would be considered a distraction if there was anything worth watching in frame in the first place.
Those that revere Malick's work will likely defend "A Hidden Life" as high-art, but don't let the snobs talk down at you. This is a pointless, rudderless exercise in existentialism and deserves to be called out for it. If you don't "get" "A Hidden Life," that doesn't mean that it's above you...it could just mean that the filmmaker failed at making an effective film. It happens, even to Terrence Malick.
Genre: Drama, Biography, Romance.
Run Time: 2 hours 54 minutes.
Starring: August Diehl, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Nyqvist, Bruno Ganz, Valerie Pachner.
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick ("Knight of Cups," "To the Wonder," "The Tree of Life," "The New World," "The Thin Red Line," "Days of Heaven," "Badlands").
"A Hidden Life" is in theaters on Friday, December 20th, 2019.
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