What a pleasure to watch Terrence Malick’s A HIDDEN LIFE flow smoothly from war mongering to lyrical rural settings and capture the changes affecting the society and an affectionate close knit family!
The director deals with a true story, a tragedy set in the Second World War period, portraying the personal agony and torture of a simple Austrian farmer, Franz and his wife Fani and the endless miseries of social boycott of the family by the villagers.
The opening shots full of news clippings from the period establish the amount of anger, hatred and pride pumped into the social system and the rise of the Third Reich under Hitler.
Franz and Fani along with their lovely daughters, mother and sister in law live in idyllic surroundings in an Alpine Austrian village, farming and cattle rearing. Their life is simple, hard but happy. Franz also lends a hand to the local pastor in his church activities. The village as a whole is peaceful, happy and helping each other. There is joy, drinks, food, music and dance. Franz is called for military training and returns later to his waiting wife and children.
Franz is quiet but a radical change has come over him after his return from training. The death and destruction a needless war imposed by a despot is causing all around, calls his conscience to revolt. When he is drafted for military service under Nazis, he does not report for duty. He is an Austrian to the core. It is not their war and he refuses to sign an oath of allegiance to Hitler.
But Franz is not an activist. He does not ask other villagers to join or support him. He is firm in his personal conviction and never shares his views with others. He is not there either to explain or invite them to share his ideas. The villagers, who were friends and buddies till the previous day, buoyed by Nazi propaganda boycott the family and humiliate them, including the children. Insults and social boycott increases the hardship of the family manifold. Franz’s resolve, supported by his loving and caring wife Fani is abiding. He is aware that the punishment for his insubordination can be incarceration and death.
He is imprisoned and tortured but could not be broken. Many of his fellow prisoners were condemned to death. Franz is shifted to Berlin for trial by a higher judiciary. He is offered that if he is not willing to fight as a soldier then he could work as an orderly in a hospital. This offer was acceptable to Franz as well but the main hurdle is signing the oath of loyalty. His Reich appointed lawyer tries to convince him till the last moment to sign the ‘paper’ and save his life. It is the moment of his ‘Experiments with Truth’. He prefers guillotine to servility.
In the village, the church bell tolls, birds fly out from their nests, the toiling folk stop their work to look up to the sky, the community silently condoles his death and start offering a helping hand to the family.
The film captures beautifully the peaceful everyday life of the village in contrast to the tension, terror and fear gripping the surroundings. It moves at its own pace evocatively supported by wonderful lighting and camera in every scene. This is not a film to be hurried through. Nature and seasons are woven into the structure of the film to highlight the scenes, situations and characters.
The film lingers in our conscience after we have left the theatre. This film is not to be missed.