A Hidden Life review – Malick explores moments of beauty amid horror

Pray. Terrence Malick is a director who builds worlds of sin and then highlights the most beautiful parts of their realities. A Hidden Life showcases his most evil world, a time of Nazism. It is the real story of a man who refused to fight for what he didn’t believe. Yet this is neither an angry film nor a despairing one; it is calm, lyrical, beautiful. This is not the story of a dead man, it is the story of inner peace.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Defy. In a year where Jojo Rabbit is hailed as an original take on the realities of Nazism, it is a shame to see A Hidden Life left relatively ignored. For this is a film that actually brings something different to the discussion: it is a spiritual appeal to those in any situation where morality intersects with duty. Looking to ordinary members of the Nazi party the film asks, what was the cost to their soul? Just because resistance goes unheard doesn’t mean it is worthless. It may not stop evil, but it is salvation for the soul. A Hidden Life is a film of values, not religion. How do you know what is right, and what does it take to commit to it when everyone stands opposed? Few films capture this struggle in the way that A Hidden Life does. It doesn’t deify the lead or make heroes out of martyrs, it just shows us morality in turmoil and a reaction to it.

Dream. A Hidden Life has Malick’s most conventional narrative in years. He even used a script when filming. Yet it still reflects his singular knack for finding beauty everywhere. The camera floats on a breeze, moving around at low angles and embracing natural light so as to make the mundane and ugly seem life-affirming: jail cells, untidy fields, and rusted chains look poetic. With Malick’s films we realise that even in the darkest times, one can find wonder if you only care to look. The film intersperses snippets of historical footage amidst the main narrative, disrupting the mood piece with stark reminders of the events’ reality.

Die. A Hidden Life has a relevance that lingers. We would all like to say that, in times of hardship and injustice, we would not stand idly by, that we would not feign approval for the sake of survival. History shows that most will choose to survive at any cost; what A Hidden Life shows is the courage to take a stand. Reality is filled with those who chose suffering for righteous reasons, people whose names we never heard and will never know. Perhaps A Hidden Life can be an homage to them.

Prayer. Defiance. Dreams. Death. A Hidden Life examines a lot. It is a soft film of quiet resistance. It is a poem of happy dreams and nightmarish realities. It doesn’t deny the many wrongs of mankind, but still chooses to be an ode to the good and the beautiful that can be found anywhere. It’s compelling filmmaking, heartfelt and wondrous.

A Hidden Life releases in cinemas January 17th.

Darren Carver-Balsiger

Nerdy mix of a technical day job and a film-loving hobby. Can be found at film festivals, watching any film that can be found (old and new, from home or abroad), and writing. Prominent user on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/DarrenCB/