"A Hidden Life" asks the question of how far you would go in your beliefs even if it means death when you have a chance to live? It is based on the true story of Austrian Franz Jagerstatter who refuses to swear his allegiance to Hitler though he does go when called up by the 3rd Reich for military training. He is a devoted husband and father of three girls who works side by side with his as much devoted wife on their large farm. His refusal to sign a loyalty oath takes him away from his family, farm and small town.
Along with the moral questions there is also the beautiful love story between Franz and his wife Franziska plus their love and interaction with their children.
The film takes place in St. Radegund, Austria, and, after the opening shots of Hitler and Nazi Germany, the camera pans over the stunning location of the town and at any minute you expect Julie Andrews to come out and sing "The Sound of Music" which is one the things that sabotages the film all the way through.
Director/screenwriter Terrence Malick takes 3 hours to tell a story that could have easily been cut by an hour if he eliminated all the repetition of most scenes. He shows the hard work of working a farm from cutting, gathering hay, digging for the vegetables, planting potatoes not only once but each scene is repeated at least 3 times. Yes a river changes constantly and Malick makes sure we see that along with many shots inside the local church's beautiful paintings.
He, also, fails to get into Franz's mind and why he believed so strongly to be the only man in the village who feels the way he does to the depths he does. There are bits and pieces spoken from the bible and he was a devout Catholic but how come he was the only one in the village? His love for his wife and children appears to be as strong as his love for his religion but it is never explained.
August Diehl as Franz and Franziska by Valerie Pachner are beautifully matched and their love is shown in many big and little ways and she accepts the pain caused by her husband not only to them, their kids but also his mother and Franziska's sister.
Is religion harder to explain than love? Is religion harder to show than love? The fact that we don't know what motivates the man to make his decisions and follow through with them, hurting many including those he loves being ostracized by all around them is the main and a big failure of the director/screenwriter!
"The Hidden Life" is a good example of more is not necessarily better!