• From 1973 to 2011 Malick made only five films—all of them either outright masterpieces or very close to the border—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 Song. These were no longer historical epics (it is different shooting a Sonic chain restaurant than a Austrian Mountain landscape with mist rising up)— they had a hint of Antonioni’s ennui territory (this is description, not a criticism). Well…Malick is back to a period piece (World War II, set in 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 the story of a martyr- part Christ’s story (Malick has been here before with The Thin Red Line), 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 (the wife, the mother both get some voice over as well) 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 2010s work like Birdman, The Revenant, Lanthimos’ The Favourite).

At the 5-minute mark the shot of the motorcycle pushing out with the sun rising in the background right of the screen… Malick would use this again as a near bookend at the 161- minute mark

  • Taking nothing away from the great Emmanuel Lubezki, but this is Malick’s first film since 1998 without him here and this is easily more beautiful than each of the last three Malick films (which were all Lubezki collaborations).
  • Like Days of Heaven Malick is back in the tall wheat— like The Thin Red Line Malick is 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 (the opening… then again at the 15-minute mark, and then later color home videos of Hitler) was unwarranted and should have been cut—keep us in Malick’s world (he has only done this once before in Badlands and that was a mistake as well).  These are extraneous and examples of poor form. There is also just one scene of Valerie Pachner’s Fani Jägerstätter talking directing to the camera. This 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- the misty clouds in the mountains. “I thought we could build our best high up in the trees”. Like all of Malick’s films there is a joyful frivolity to these scenes, here, on the hillside with the wonderous backdrops, there is the blindfold game with his children. This Eden is short lived though, the war planes show up in the first 10 minutes of this nearly three hour film.
  • 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 just like the massive house set piece in Days of Heaven. It is magnificent—it is L’Avventura (1960), it is Kogonada’s Columbus (2017), it is Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart 2015 or Ash is  Purest White 2018) or Ozu in A Hen in the Wind (1948)

Malick always has an eye for backgrounds as well as the foreground

an enchanting fresco here

  • The church interiors (there is a painter working there with some moral meditations of his own) are jaw-dropping as well, even the prison (with those arches) is so remarkable to look at

the prison sequence

  • Too many standalone museum piece knockouts to keep track of. 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.

A Hidden Life a major step up in quality from Malick’s three previous efforts

the characters seem to always be operating on this hillside in front of great vistas- some of it resembling Victor Sjöström’s work a century ago 

  • James Newton Howard score’s here is worthy of praise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QQfj-w6r6U- for the most part Malick has been sampling opera, Wagner, and classical since 1998’s The Thin Red Line
  • Appreciate these films- it is rare in any artform to have something this beautiful to behold. And if that isn’t enough, to add to that it is created with such a specific dogma- it makes the achievement even rarer.
  • There is a strong focus on background as well as foreground when he’s getting read his death sentence.
  • It is really Malick’s first film shot in digital, Malick apparently spent almost three years editing the film

The final shot of the heavens through the mountain, again, at the low angle…majestic

  • At 174 minutes (and they just float on by) it is longer than any other Malick film
  • A Must-See film- top five of the year quality