Stand Firm

A Hidden Life 
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Jurgen Prochnow, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz and Maria Simon
Director/Scriptwriter: Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”)
Composer: James Newton Howard (“Fantastic Beasts” and “The Hunger Games”)
Cinematography: Jorg Widner (“The Tree of Life”)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Running Length: 174 Minutes 

There are two war films currently in movie theaters.  One is Sam Mendes’ “1917” and the WWI conflict there, concerning Germany, and the other is Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” based on the life of Franz Jagerstatter, and about the WWII conflict with Germany.  One centers on stopping a military assault and the other is stopping the dissemination of a people by personally objecting to war.  “Personally objecting” wins out here, as Malick’s film, three hours long, gives us a man who holds his view of life as a point of honor and just won’t give up.  Bring handkerchief. During war time, there can be many instances of people standing up for what is right, and Malick has chosen the one of a simple farmer, with a family, who lives in a quiet community.  You can feel that something is ahead on the road, but don’t know where or when it will happen.  Both films have spectacular photography, but Jorg Widner’s mountains are beautiful.  Malick’s film gets its point across and with a classical soundtrack by James Newton Howard.   

August Diehl stars as Franz, an Austrian farmer at the end of the 1930’s.  It is love at first sight when he meets Fani, and they are soon married. It is at this time that war is breaking out around Austria, but the people in the area don’t make much of it.  Years later, Franz is called to be a soldier and must leave Fani and their children behind.  Eventually, he comes home, and it seems there is peace, but that is an illusion. The local farmers are asked to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich, which Franz, a fervent church-goer,  will not do. Even the clergy is undecided.  Franz is arrested and taken to prison, where he sits for months, writing letters home.  Fani does not have an easy time there, as the friendly farm neighbors are becoming angry with Franz and take it out on the family. The war outside Austria continues. What will happen next? 

It takes insurmountable courage to stand up to a nation that is systematically killing people. Franz does stand up and ends up beaten and in prison. Fani, at home, has to stand up to the community, and without a husband to back her. When one stands up for what they believe is right, the effects are felt all around, like the circular pattern in a pond when a rock is thrown there.  There are lessons to be learned here from the past and projected to our time. And then the question comes, “What would you do?”  


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner