Terence Malick has gone through a fascinating evolutionary path, from the hazy, formative Days Of Heaven and Badlands spanning out to the free flowing, elemental and incredibly lyrical aesthetic he owns these days. Most of his films I’ve tried since Tree Of Life have kind of been lost on me; they’ve struck me as Malick playing in the artistic sandbox with literal handfuls of A list cameos but in experimenting loosely he lost a sense of narrative that was necessary as well. I was pleased to find that his newest film A Hidden Life progresses away from that and shows the most considerable growth in him as an artist I’ve seen since the leap from The New World to Tree Of Life. A Hidden Life contains a carefully distilled symbiotic dance between Malick’s newfound, esoteric style of filmmaking and telling of a linear, structured story with dialogue and beats, the result is something wholly fulfilling and transcendent. This is a simple story one one Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstetter (August Diehl, so evil and malicious in Inglorious Basterds it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor playing this gentle, compassionate soul) who refuses against all coercion, peer pressure and principle to go along with Hitler’s reich or anything it stands for. This naturally causes him and his family no end of trouble until he reaches a nexus of his own making and his choices lead him down a path from which there is no return. Now we all know that gorgeous, pristine widescreen cinematography is a given in any Malick film but I can say most assuredly that this one has the absolute best and most drop dead gorgeous photography of anything he’s ever done. His images sweep over the Austrian hills, craggy mountains and misty glens with a movement and life force independent of simple camera work, and the sense of place, time and feeling instilled deep within the viewer is unparalleled. Later scenes in Berlin have a sort of regal, magisterial reverence to them, with ornate chapels midway through being painted and an over elaborate courthouse where Franz meets his ultimate fate. Austrian actress Valerie Pachner is unbelievably striking as Franz’s wife Fani, a fiercely protective, strong spirited woman who doesn’t always understand her husband’s defiance (same goes for me) but stands with him nonetheless. The strongest aspects of the film are carefully shot, almost holy sequences of day to day farm life in the Austrian countryside, filled with the same impossible beauty and studious observance we remember from Tree Of Life. We never even see the atrocities of war that Franz defies, and there’s scarcely a violent moment in the film save for his mistreatments in military prison. But through the simple act of watching this small village, it’s children, elders, tradesman, see these souls live through routine and love one another we get the sense of exactly what is at stake and what Franz is fighting for, despite never observing actual conflict. With Tree Of Life Malick searched the heavens for the same patterns of life and kinship he saw within one 1950’s American family, and drew forth wonders of filmmaking. And now with A Hidden Life he shows us one tiny Austrian village observed with all the detail and resonance one might see in the cosmos and asks us decide for ourselves as just how valuable such a place is, and what an act like Franz’s does in the long run to preserve it. Phenomenal film.