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Director Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life’ focuses on a Catholic hero



Silvia Costantini - published on 12/06/19

The surprising new film by the American director, dedicated to Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, gets a Vatican screening.

On the 60th anniversary of the Vatican Film Library, a screening of A Hidden Life, the latest masterpiece by American director Terrence Malick, was held. The film focuses on a hero who is unknown to many: Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

A simple farmer, Franz lived with his beloved wife, Fani, and his three daughters in Radegund, a small mountain village in Upper Austria. His serene life was thrown into turmoil by the shadows of the Second World War, when he was called upon to take an oath to the Führer and fight for the Nazis. 

However, his faith in God didn’t allow him to use violence, to go to war, to kill. Thus, Franz opted for passive resistance, for which he paid a high price: first he was arrested, then he was tried and finally sentenced to death, in August 1943.

Malick’s hero: Fidelity to God and love of neighbor

Franz embodies the anti-hero of the collective imagination, but in his simplicity and coherence he represents the disruptive force of those who do not bend before men, of those who do not sell themselves to corruption of the soul, but who find their highest expression in faith in God and love for their families and for others. 

One man is enough to make a difference: a good, true, peaceful man. This is Malick’s true timeless hero. 

Nature and simplicity: A return to the essential

The film moves slowly, retracing scenes of daily life. Beautiful, mostly bucolic images slowly compose a picture which, in taking form, pierces the soul of the viewer with existential questions.

The beauty of the landscapes, the unshakable love between the protagonist and his wife (who died in 2013), and above all their testimony of faith transform the film into a call to conscience for viewers. 

Remembering so as not to fall back into the mistakes of the past

The historical setting seems almost a warning not to repeat the horrors of the past. The film is an invitation to take a stand: to follow Franz’s example and fight against evil, bearing witness to one’s faith.

The fact that the theme of memory is important to Malick is also clear from the title of the film, which is based on a passage by the English writer George Eliot:

“For 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.” (Middlemarch, 1872)

The film, which was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, will be released in cinemas in 2020.

The screening of Malick’s film on December 4 served to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Vatican Film Library, an institution established by Pope John XXIII on November 16, 1959, and which today holds over 7,000 film titles in its historical archive. It has become a privileged forum in the dialogue between the Church and the world of the silver screen.

Franz Jägerstätter was declared “blessed” on October 26, 2007, in the Cathedral of Linz.

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