Following a few failed experiments, Terrence Malick has re-established himself with A Hidden Life, the story of an Austrian farmer who refuses to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
Catholics also continue to recruit new members by occasionally declaring somebody a martyr. Pope Benedict XVI, a former member of the Hitler Youth, canonized Franz Jägerstätter in 2007. The farmer and father of three daughters was one of the few Austrians who refused to swear allegiance to Hitler and take up arms. In his own words, this would have been irreconcilable with his Catholic faith. He refused to compromise and paid for it with his life.
Jägerstätter's life and choice are lauded by Terrence Malick in his inimitably lyrical style that reaches to heaven. The general consensus is that the Texan who entranced filmgoers with Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Tree of Life has re-established himself after a few intriguing but less successful experiments (Knight of Cups, Song to Song) because he is telling a clear story again. One might question this analysis, or at least nuance it.
The story helps to keep you concentrated for three hours, but this almost nonviolent anti-war film is at its best in the magnificent pastoral scenes. The mountain air, the mountain light, the meadows, the clouds, and the flowers bring out the best in the Texan film painter. He initially depicts the idyllic happiness of Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife (Valerie Pachner) and children, but he then contrasts the bucolic landscapes with the dark reality of prison.
The cinematic beauty is overwhelming, but the plot is much less so. We never really get to the depths of who Jägerstätter is, and the fact that his moral power flowed from his sincere faith is more assumed than actually shown. In fact, if you ask me, his wife probably deserved to be canonized more than he did. She stayed behind alone with the children, was reviled by the village, but she continued to work the land and remained intractable.