Directed by: Terrence Malick – Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts
Based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter (Diehl) an Austrian farmer who refused to swear the oath of allegiance to Hitler when called up for military service in WWII, much of the events depicted here are taken straight from letters written between he and his wife, Fani.
Jägerstätter was a deeply spiritual man, and his refusal was based on his faith. However, with the rest of the able-bodied men in his village all called into service, his decision was an unpopular one. He and Fani found themselves ostracised by former friends, and Franz was eventually imprisoned for his stance.
Despite the harsh conditions in prison, he continued to refuse to sign the oath, and he was eventually executed for his beliefs. It’s the kind of human story that you really couldn’t make up. It has drama and romance, set against a backdrop of a war.
Malick spends a long time establishing Franz and Fani’s idyllic life, in their rural home with their three girls. Indeed, that seems to be the entire purpose of the first 25 minutes of this film. There is little in the way of dialogue, other than voiceovers reading the contents of the couple’s real life letters.
He also indulges his eye for a vista, and spends a lot of time focusing on the sweeping landscapes in the Austrian countryside. Many of the shots look almost like moving postcards, and while the cinematography is indeed stunning, it does feel a bit overindulgent at times, and definitely contributes to the 174-minute running time.
Diel and Pachner work well together as the doomed couple, and Pachner in particular is great as the tormented Frani, who struggles to keep things running on the farm, while her husband languishes in prison. She really manages to convey her sadness and fears. Their performances are enhanced by a soaring soundtrack, predominately composed by James Newton Howard. In the absence of dialogue for large chunks of this movie, it is the music that keeps it moving along.
This has already won a few awards, and fans of Malick will surely lap this up. However, for those not on his wavelength, this may prove a bit tedious. He could easily have shaved an hour off it without affecting the story, and at times, his devotion to the Austrian scenery gets tedious. Although this looks beautiful, I felt it could have been grittier, given the subject matter.
This is a disturbing true life story that deserved to have a big-screen outing. It was just a bit too whimsical for my tastes, and far too long.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: