A Hidden Life


The Austrian Alps are a cinematic paradise where farmers work hard but happily. The Anschluss changed the situation, as depicted in A Hidden Life, directed by Terrence Malick. At the center is Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl) and his family in St. Radegund. Briefly recruited into the Austrian army for basic training in 1940, presumably for the German invasion of France, he receives a farming exemption and returns with a cane. But he has acquired a new perspective on what he later calls an “unjust war,” as he has learned that his role in war would have been to kill innocent persons. When soldiers later ask him to contribute crops for the war, he quietly declines, and he refuses a cash subsidy for his farm, puzzling the local mayor, priest, and bishop who urge obedience to the fatherland. In 1943, he is recruited again but refuses to give allegiance to Hitler unlike his fellow recruits. His conscientious objection to the war ultimately lands him in a prison in Berlin, more humiliation, a trial, and execution. Meanwhile, his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) has to suffer opprobrium from others in the farming community.

Mostly relying on voiceovers, presumably read from correspondence exchanged with his supportive wife, the slow-moving film, which lasts nearly three hours, gives filmviewers a taste of the agony, as there are many places where scenes could easily have been cut. Based on true events, Jagerstatter was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007, a step on the road to an official declaration of sainthood. The Political Film Society has nominated A Hidden Life for best film promoting human rights and peace in 2019.  MH