What happens when a war starts? What happens when life begins fading into non-existence? Is it worth saving our life through the sacrifice of others? Will it make us happy to build our home on the skeletons of those whose lives were lost because of our fear and lack of courage to speak up? All these are questions Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” addresses, providing the most heartbreaking answer one can anticipate.
A young man named Franz (August Diehl) was living an idyllic life with his darling wife, Franziska (Valerie Pancher), but had to give it up for a war he not only did not believe in but viciously fought to not to be a part of; to stay away from Nazis, the ideology, and the bloodshed. But as time proves, even a strong man can be broken under harsh realities, but not Franz, who, along with his wife, want their hidden life back which they cherished even though the circumstances they will find themselves in draws another picture.
As an opening card of the film states, during WWII every Austrian had to attend the war for Germany and swore to Hitler their loyalty. Through the letters of Franz and Franziska, they both share their happy moments, how life once used to be so beautiful, happy, and harmless. They lived, they say, above the clouds, and strongly believed no harm can reach them. But when the same harm finds its way to their home, chaos begins in the entire world. The life they knew once will no longer exist except in their minds. Their love for each other and their beliefs are stronger than any evil man who thinks he can take all these away.
Through the stellar cast, carefully written and extremely nuanced screenplay by Terrence Malick, “A Hidden Life” observes the life before, during, and after the war. It draws parallels between them, the man’s resistance and what we normally begin losing – our own selves. The most important question the film asks through the dramatic dialogue is when Franz asks his friend, “Do you believe in what you fight for?” The same question is heartbreaking and real in any time whenever it is asked. But then, Malick answers the same question through Bishop Joseph Fliessen (Michael Nyqvist), “this is what happens when a war starts – man lives but the life is lost.”
In the end, there’s a lot to talk about what Malick tells the audience through his masterwork. Memory, the life before and after, war and its necessity, and the damage it brings to each family turn into devastating results. “A Hidden Life” is a beautiful, wildly gorgeous, highly intelligent piece of work in a form of a long love letter written by the hidden lives of those who have lost it, and those who fight to keep it alive at any cost. To believe it, understand it and experience it, you must see it with your own life to begin appreciating even more what you have and what others no longer do.