Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Christ Over the Coronavirus Film Choice | "A Hidden Life" Review + Recommendation

"A Hidden Life" is "Extraordinary ... the quietest acts of resistance are part of what save civilization." + O. Gleiberman

" ... The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. ... " + George Eliot

Before the year of cinema in 2020 was delayed and shortened, and the theaters were emptied for a time, we were gifted with a pretty amazing 2019. My favorite films from the past year included Parasite, JoJo Rabbit, 1917, Ford v Ferrari, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Little Women, The Farewell, and more that I have seen, and perhaps some others that I will add to the list once I catch up.

But one that I had not seen that I was able to finally sit down and absorb was "A Hidden Life." And it was so worth the wait and the duration. I needed the nearly 3-hour running time to soak in with my wife by my side. Despite the solid competition, it is now my favorite film of the previous year, and will most likely prove to be the film I need the most in the year ahead.

For an introduction to Terrence Malick, the filmmaker responsible for this special film, he is a director that creates visual poetry (i.e. moments to behold like viewing a moving painting) in the midst of the prose (i.e. plot-driven actions). With "A Hidden Life," he follows a linear narrative while filling it with his trademark "magic-" or "Malick-hour" cinematography, quiet vistas, whispering voice-overs, natural dialogue, and orchestral soundscapes. 

"A Hidden Life" brings to the cinema the based-on-true-events story of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), a married farmer who lives in a town located in the rural Austrian region of Radegund. His life with his wife, daughters, mother, and sister-in-law is idyllic until it is ruptured by the 1939 appearance of the Nazis. When he’s forced to join the Third Reich’s army and swear allegiance to Hitler, Franz refuses his fidelity, believing that this fearful fascism filling the land isn’t simply a socio-political force, but a moral and spiritual disintegration. 

Franz’s refusal brings excruciating consequences for both himself and his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner), whose own journey is one of courageous conviction as she must face communal judgment and disdain while working a farm alone in order to take a stand with her husband and against Nazi tyranny. 

"A Hidden Life" with Franz praying in prison

Malick wondrously captures their covenant faithfulness to each other, to the Christ they pray to, and to this growing hidden life that is beautiful, bold, and brutal in the sacrifice, particularly when so many voices are mocking their seemingly "worthless" convictions. The scenes and dialogue connect their choices with bearing this cross, as their journey is Christ-like in many ways. Below are some of the exchanges of dialogue that impacted me in such moments:

When Franz is seeking counsel in a church while paintings of Christ are being finished ...  
Painter Ohlendorf [To Franz in sharing what it means to truly follow Jesus in all of life] What we do, is just create ... sympathy. We create ... we create admirers. We don't create followers. Christ's life is a demand. We don't want to be reminded of it. So we don't have to see what happens to the Truth. A darker time is coming ... when men will be more clever. They won't fight the Truth, they'll just ignore it. I paint their comfortable Christ, with a halo over His head. How can I show what I haven't lived? Someday I might have the courage to venture, not yet. Someday ... I'll paint the true Christ.  
When Franz is standing trial for treason and awaiting his conviction ...   
Franz: I don't know everything. A man may do wrong, and he can't get out of it to make his life clear. Maybe he'd like to go back, but he can't. But I have this feeling inside me, that I can't do what I believe is wrong.  
Judge Lueben: Do you have a right to do this? 
Franz Jägerstätter: Do I have a right not to?   
Lorenz Schwaninger[Talking to his daughter Fani, Franz's wife, about Franz's imprisonment and the resultant mistreatment that the family is facing ... ] Better to suffer injustice than to do it.

I think there are only a few filmmakers who could realize this powerful story in such a vulnerable and stunning way. Malick bridges visually and sonically the heavenly with the earthly, the outer actions of sacrifice with the inner workings of prayer and conviction. His epic-yet-intimate handheld cinematography along with James Newton Howard’s orchestral score complements the quietly piercing internal-monologue narration. All of the above weave together in a harmony of sight and sound that highlights the Jägerstätters' steadfast actions of loyalty, grace, and strength when most tell them that their convictions don't matter and will not change anything in the world.

Yet this film reveals that what many may see as worthless suffering in the dark is anything but. By God's grace, we are still hearing and re-telling their story today in the light of cinema. "A Hidden Life" is a display of supernatural grace, the film itself an act of defiance against nihilism and fascism. It cared for my soul as I soaked in each frame and act of faith. I felt the burden this family carried, and I wondered along with them at the world we have wrought. As they clung to divine promise trusting that crucifixion ends in resurrection, they encouraged me to continue to root myself in a steadfast faith in Jesus that seeks first a different Kingdom rather than the one I can manage on my own, the Kingdom of Christ that will result in justice and righteousness regardless of what seems to be apparent to my eyes right now. 

"A Hidden Life"'s Fani reading, weeping, and praying at home

My prayer is that "A Hidden Life" is not hidden from viewers during this pandemic, whether watched in one sitting or over the course of multiple evenings at home. It is a timeless tale about being resolute in the face of rejection, being humble peacemakers who are being formed by Christ even when the world mocks the meek and spirals into distrust, segregation, isolation, and defeat.

In light of such a quiet confidence and strength, I look forward to spending time with the Jägerstätters again and soaking in each scene with them. As we are searching for hope among the hidden lives walking our streets and living in our homes, my prayer is that we find ourselves and those we love being held by the One who holds us fast, trusting in Jesus and becoming more like Him, discovering that what may seem to be lost in the dark, including us, will be held onto and brought into the light.

Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. + Jesus (Matthew 10:26-31) 
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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