(director/writer: Terrence Malick; cinematographer: Joerg Widmer; editors: Joe Gleason/Sebastian Jones/Rehman NizarAli; music: James Newton Howard; cast: August Diehl (Franz Jäggerstätter), Matthias Schoenaerts (Herder), Bruno Ganz (Judge Lueben), Valerie Pachner (Franziska), Michael Nyqvist (Bishop Joseph Fliessen), Jürgen Prochnow (Major Schlegel, village mayor), Tobias Moretti (Vicar Ferdinand Fürthauer), Franz Rogowski (Waldlan), Karin Neuhäuser (Rosalia), Ulrich Matthes (Lorenz Schwaninger); Runtime: 176; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Elisabeth Bentley/Josh Jeter/Dario Bergesio/Grant Hill; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2019-Germany/USA-in English & German, with English subtitles when necessary)

“It’s a moving and heartfelt tribute to an individual’s ideals.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is lifted from George Eliot’s Middlemarch: “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.”

The enormously talented and visionary reclusive writer-director Terrence Malick (“Song to Song”/”Knight of Cups”) bases his ambitious and thought-provoking true story on an unsung hero, Franz Jagerstatter (August Diehl, German actor), an Austrian conscientious objector during WW II. It pays homage in an inscrutable but in a high-minded way to a modern-day saint, who was a conscript and in 1943 was duly executed for refusing to take the oath to serve the Nazis after being imprisoned. The visually impressive three-hour art film is inspired by this farmer’s self-sacrifice for his high principles. Unfortunately the hero’s life and the moral issues get buried in the nuances of the story telling and Malick can never bring his subject into the light to make the film shine. Nevertheless it’s a moving and heartfelt tribute to an individual’s ideals. But it’s a strange, unique and lengthy film to completely embrace without reservations.

Valerie Pachner plays Franz’s wife Franziska, who together share a very happy rural life together in the mountain village of Radegund. Matthias Schoenarts plays Jägerstetter’s defense lawyer. The late Bruno Ganz plays the military tribunal president, someone sympathetic to him, who reluctantly passes the death sentence when not understanding the stubbornness of the defendant’s stand to die because of his beliefs.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI beatified him.The consensus of opinion was he did so perhaps as an apology for the Church’s failure to oppose the Nazis. It seems the farmer had more integrity, spunk and conviction for Christian beliefs than the church.

The style Malick uses of shooting this old-fashioned story as an non-conventional film might deter some viewers, but in its soul-searching and minimal dialogue way it gets inside the Catholic martyr’s head (despite its vagueness about his spirituality and politics and not letting him speak for himself). It lets us through observation (using mostly tracking shots or wide-angle closeups) feel his anguish, his loneliness and the agonizing fear he has if he is doing the right thing for himself and his ostracized family (2 daughters) in his close-knit community.

REVIEWED ON 12/20/2019  GRADE: B+  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/