These days we’re drowning in entertainment. When movies become “theme parks”, as Scorsese famously said of Marvel movies, it makes it all the more refreshing when we can experience stories that are narratively strong, technically proficient, and artful in their execution. Every month, Melbourne Catholic will be featuring a movie (old or new) that has perhaps escaped your attention but is still worthy of your time.

A Hidden Life (2019)

Directed by Terrence Malick, one of Hollywood’s most mysterious filmmakers, A Hidden Life has been described as being ‘in a class of its own.’

Set in the early years of the Second World War, it follows Franz Jägerstätter and his family, an Austrian Catholic family that work their farm in a tiny Alpine village, as the Nazis come to conscript people for the war effort. Franz knows he can’t in good conscience swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, and so is imprisoned for it.

From the very beginning, it should be said that this is not a “war” film in the traditional sense. War is merely the context. Unlike other spectacles of the big screen that try and recreate the drama and violence of war itself, here Malick has made an essentially religious film about a man who, as a matter of principle, refuses to serve a false god (and from the start, Hitler is depicted as a false god). It also follows Franz’ wife who, back in their home town, becomes a pariah because people don’t understand why Franz would make such a refusal. Even the Catholic hierarchy have caved in, urging Franz to simply enlist and swear the oath for the sake of his family. But he doesn’t.

Be warned: some people struggled with this film due to its pacing and Malick’s unique cinematic style. So, it does require patience. But it is worth it, because no other film has managed to capture the moral drama involved in resisting evil quite like this one has. At one point, Franz is in conversation with a local painter who says, ‘We create admirers. We don’t create followers. Christ’s life is a demand.’

This, ultimately, is what the film is about. The choice to be an admirer of Christ or a follower, and what that following actually entails when a choice is made. Interestingly, Franz Jägerstätter was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, so it’s nice to see a master of cinema make a film about this courageous Blessed.

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