#SheWatches – A Hidden Life

February 4, 2020


How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? How much pain and torture could you endure and still keep your resistance? To what extent are you prepared to suffer and not waver when all you have to do is to sign a piece of paper denying your personal principles and swear allegiance to the reigning power? 

These ethical questions have existed since the dawn of humankind. Numerous examples of individuals and even whole countries are recorded throughout history. I am thinking of political activist Sophie Scholl in 1943 Nazi Germany, and the small country of Finland, which resisted and fought off the Soviet invasion during the Winter War of 1939/1940. The price for these acts of heroic bravery is high. Sophie paid with her life aged twenty-one, Finland with huge losses and concessions, but both defended their principles with total conviction and sacrifice.

A Hidden Life released in 2019 and filmed in the magic landscape of the Austrian mountains follows the life of farmer Franz Jägerstätter and his wife Fani, whose love rewarded them with three beautiful little girls. We follow their working life and their interaction with the other villagers throughout the four seasons. Dark clouds forebodingly descend on their idyllic existence with the rise of the Third Reich’s brown shirts. Drafted into training camp service Franz questions the motive and actions requested by the recruits.

Singled out as a non-conformer to a regime he opposes, the villagers openly express their hate with nasty petty deeds against him and his family. Eventually Franz is arrested and transported to the headquarters in Berlin. Back home his wife struggles valiantly and only with the help of her sister to run the farm. Franz’s personal conviction of not supporting a regime he believes to be unjust, enables him to withstand the offer of freedom by simply signing a declaration of allegiance to the Fűhrer. While the consequence of his decision will change their family life forever, Fani supports and loves Franz regardless of his choice.

I was deeply moved by this film. Indeed, how far do I value my life when principles are at stake? Fortunately, we are living, at the moment, in a time and a place, where I don’t have to make ‘live or die’ decisions. Yet, there are numerous issues on the political landscape that I don’t agree with, issues that prompt me to join protest marches, but faced with possible arrest and punishment, would I still partake in these actions?

I salute the writer director Terrence Malick for making this three-hour tribute to Franz, which is based on real events and whose core topic is as relevant today as in the 1940s. August Diehl and Valerie Pachner as the Jägerstätters lead an outstanding cast. Michael Nyqvist as Bishop Fliesser gives his last performance and Bruno Ganz as Judge Lueben his second last. The camera captures the enchantment of the Austrian rurality which is enhanced by James Newton Howard’s hauntingly beautiful score.


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