From 1973 to 2011 Malick made only 5 films—all of them masterpieces—and all were rather simple narratives set in the past. Malick then made three more modern day films (To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, Song of Songs) that weren’t historical epics (it’s different shooting a Sonic chain restaurant than a Austrian Mountain landscape with mist rising up)— had a hint of Antonioni’s ennui territory (this is description, not a criticism)—Malick is back to a period piece (WWII Austria) and to film that has some semblance of a narrative (again, description—I love Antonioni’s ennui-infused films). The bones of the narrative here is part the Christ story, part Joan of Arc—persecution for beliefs.
Fully a Malick film and he is one cinema’s great artists– a tone poem collage of awe-inspiring beautiful photography— vistas and landscapes, natural light (though there’s certainly not a dependency on his trademark magic hour here), an untethered camera (most of the dialogue is delivered via voice-over to keep the camera free), montage (almost like an entire film of Ozu pillow shots), rhythmical, lyrical, Christian.
Reoccurring low-angle camera position (Wellesian—I certainly know what each of the immaculate ceilings in the film looks like) and wide-angle camera lenses (it certainly resembles say Inarritu’s 2010’s work like Birdman, The Revenant or Lanthimos’ The Favourite)
Like Days of Heaven we’re back in wheat— like The Thin Red Line we’re back with in the war as the backdrop for Malick’s moral and theological musings.
I had a couple of small problems that I thought broke the ranks of good film form. For one, I thought the documentary footage used at a few points (especially in the opening) was unwarranted and should’ve been cut—keep us in Malick’s world (he’s never done this before). There’s also just one scene of Valerie Pachner’s Fani Jägerstätter talking directing to the camera. Absolutely should have been cut. Yet another, August Diehl’s Franz Jägerstätter gets attacked in first person and we go to a first person POV for the beating- poor form
Their home (or nest) in the mountains is an Eden. And it is an exquisite Eden. Malick always has an eye on the background as well as the foreground (sometimes more so) with the clock tower building almost always in the frame here. It’s gorgeous—it’s Antonioni, it’s Kogonada’s Columbus (2017), it’s Jia Zhangke or Ozu in A Hen in the Wind (1948)
The church (there is a painter working there with some moral meditations of his own) is jaw-droppingly beautiful, even the prison (with those arches) is so remarkable to look at
Too many stand-alone museum-piece wall photographical art knockouts to keep track of in theater. One that stood out in my memory is a low angle shot in prison through the bed springs. Another is a silhouette immaculate photograph with Matthias Schoenaerts and August Diehl—it is a twin to a similar shot in Tree of Life found here (can’t find the A Hidden Life equivalent but it’s just as strong)
It’s not quite the luminous scales of Hans Zimmer in The Thin Red Line but James Newton Howard score’s here is worthy of praise
At 174 minutes it’s longer than any other Malick film and though the photography is otherworldly—I can’t say (after one viewing at least) that it’s stronger or quite on the level of The New World or Tree of Life— I’m calling it at Highly Recommend/Must-See border film until I get a rewatch