A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life ★½

A HIDDEN LIFE (Terrence Malick, USA, 2019) 3

Well, it was definitely the best film of the festival that opened with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL footage. More seriously, I’m fundamentally a “prose” guy who just finds Malick’s so-called “poetic” style to be fundamentally off-putting — tedious, all-surface, all-motif, anti-dramatic and teasing. It also “helps” that nature itself does absolutely nothing for urbanite me, so I’m never going to be sheer overwhelmed by The Beauty Of It All. Talking with friends afterward, I said Malick had essentially made a three-hour trailer, in which every scene is a trailerized version of a scene from a substantial drama. There are about three scenes where someone — a priest, a defense lawyer, a judge — try to talk Jagerstatter out of his refusal to be drafted. Each consists of four or five declarative lines, about that many (non-matched) shots and closeups of the pained martyr. Each could have served as trailer bait for the middle section of Steve McQueen’s HUNGER, the lengthy conversation between Bobby Sands and a priest about his impending hunger strike. None of the HIDDEN LIFE scenes make for remotely compelling drama as is. The other film I’d mention is the narratively- and thematically-similar OF GODS AND MEN, which caused a friend to predict I’d similarly adore the Malick. Instead, it served to be as the signpost of what might’ve been if Malick weren’t in love with his editor and his camera operator and could ever trust people talking or acting.