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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Hidden Life is a Terrence Malick-directed WWII drama based on the true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who was called up to fight but refused to take a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler and was arrested. The movie is beautifully poetic but very long (nearly three hours) and quite relentlessly downbeat. It includes some disturbing Nazi footage and scenes of brutal beatings in prison. Characters sometimes threaten, fight, shove, wrestle, slap, spit, throw things, and shout at one another. A character is arrested, put in handcuffs, and later sentenced to death. A married couple kisses, and characters are seen drinking socially and smoking in the background. One secondary character appears drunk in one scene. Language isn't an issue.
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What's the story?
In A HIDDEN LIFE, it's 1939 in Austria, and farmer Franz (August Diehl) lives peacefully with his wife, Franziska (Valerie Pachner), in a small village near the mountains. War breaks out, and Franz is sent to basic training, but when France surrenders, he's sent back home. Hoping the worst is over, the couple continues their life, working the farm and raising three girls. Unfortunately, Franz is called back to the war, where he's required to take an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Franz refuses, knowing the consequences. Franziska supports him, despite the fact that all their neighbors have begun to treat her as an outcast. Franz is arrested and awaits the trial that will decide his fate.
Is it any good?
No one quite captures nature's beauty and slowness as well as Terrence Malick does, but his mastery only barely saves this three-hour-long story that's full of misery, despair, and hopelessness. Based on a true story, A Hidden Life certainly tackles important subjects, not only honoring the life and sacrifice of the real Franz Jägerstätter, but also examining mob mentality and the way that neighbor can turn on neighbor over a belief, no matter how wrong-headed that belief may be.
But Malick's drifting, exploratory filmmaking methods are a better fit for poetic impressions than for concrete stories and themes. He shows he doesn't quite have the temperament for smoothing out this story, making it flow, and providing some ups to counterbalance the downs. And the running time becomes oppressive. But there's no denying that A Hidden Life captures some truly striking small moments, such as the family playing in the grass beneath the mountains, the women harvesting crops, or men drifting around a prison yard, forbidden to speak. The late actor Bruno Ganz also makes a touching appearance as the judge who hears Franz's case.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about A Hidden Life's violence. How did it affect you? Does the fact that the movie is based on real events make it seem more or less powerful?
What do you think made Franz continue to refuse to take the oath to Hitler when he could have saved his own life and gone back to his family?
Why did the farmers' neighbors treat them so hatefully after Franz made his decision? Have you ever felt that way toward someone for thinking differently?
Why are depressing stories told? Why is it important to learn about horrible things that happened in the past?
What's the appeal of movies based on true stories?
- In theaters: December 13, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 17, 2020
- Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Bruno Ganz
- Director: Terrence Malick
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 174 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including violent images
- Last updated: March 19, 2020
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