The divisive director is back with his most acclaimed film in years.

Terrence Malick returns with A Hidden Life, bringing Franz Jägerstätter’s story to the screen. 

Cast your minds back to 1973…

We saw the release of George Lucas’ American Graffiti, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and so many more gems. Yet, many would be quick to declare Terrence Malick’s directorial debut feature Badlands as their favourite of that year. 

He cemented his status as a remarkable filmmaker with sophomore effort Days of Heaven in 1978, which is arguably one of the most beautiful films ever made. It would be twenty years before he made his third feature, The Thin Red Line, but it was worth it. We then had 2005’s The New World and the monumental release of The Tree of Life in 2011, which was his most experimental offering by a mile. Inevitably, it divided audiences, but his later efforts – To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, Song to Song – feel like a distinct chapter in his career. 

They’re certainly not for everyone. However, many detractors of his recent work have championed A Hidden Life as a long-overdue return to form.  

Director Terrence Malick filming his new movie during day one of Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on November 2, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

August Diehl stars as Franz Jägerstätter

Based on a true story, A Hidden Life centres upon Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner)

Franz is called to fight for the Nazis in World War II but refuses, asserting that he will not swear an oath to Hitler. 

Malick does a great job of spotlighting those who have made the world a better place as a result of their refusal of obedience through this specific and heartbreaking example. The title actually borrows from a quote from writer George Eliot and appears on the screen at the end:

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

So, who was Franz? 

A Hidden Life: Franz Jägerstätter

As noted by The National World War II Museum, conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter was executed by the Nazis in a prison in Brandenburg an der Havel on August 9th 1943.

He was an Austrian from St. Radegund, living a simple life before being drafted for military service in 1940. He was shortly sent back to the farm after, but when he was called again in 1943, his religious beliefs encouraged him to defy orders. 

This bold decision was one of the greatest acts of resistance by an Austrian civilian during the war, leading to his imprisonment. Although he had four daughters, Franz refused to serve in the German Wehrmacht, aware of the repercussions.

For many years he actually remained unsung, but his bravery and defiance became more widely known once the Catholic Church delved deeper into Catholic resisters during the war. In 2007, the Vatican honoured Franz with the halo of martyrdom.


Franz Jägerstätter’s defence

The earlier source includes a summary of his defence, taken from the trial records of the Reich Military Court in Berlin:

“Only in the past year had he become convinced that as a devout Catholic he was unable to engage in active military service. It was impossible for him to be a Catholic and at the same time a National Socialist. When he complied with the earlier conscription order, he did so because at that time he considered it a sin not to obey state orders.”

Continued: “Now, however, God had given him the thought that it was not a sin to refuse armed service. There were matters in which one was obliged to obey God more than man; the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ forbade him to engage in armed service, though he was prepared to serve as a paramedic.”

A Hidden Life stands mighty proud as a creative and essential exploration of a man who refused to conform, giving up his life rather than defying his beliefs and morale. 

In other news, where was Cobra filmed?