Thursday, 30 January 2020

Alternate Best Actor 2019: August Diehl in A Hidden Life

August Diehl did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Franz Jägerstätter in A Hidden Life.

A Hidden Life tells the true story of a conscientious objector who refuses to fight for the Nazi regime.

A Hidden Life is a partial return to any form for director Terrence Malick. A director who has more recently been swallowed whole by his own excesses. This taking his innovative ideas regarding film making, and instead of using them to amplify a story in a unique way, as he had done in say a The Thin Red Line, he instead lets his style overwhelm the story. This as it becomes less about how the technique accentuates the drama and rather just a display of technique. A Hidden Life does have a story, with a beginning middle and end. This is the return to form in that sense but much of Malick's indulgences remain. This in his scattered editing, repetitive scenes of nature and humans basically as observed animals in a certain sense. Although there are choices here that add to the story, largely how poignant the sense of the bliss of a provincial life can be, his refusal to kill his darling or his excesses diminish the overall important story of this real man who stood up against the Nazi regime. Although I'd typically perish the thought, this is an example of a film that could've used a strong second voice, and frankly I'd pay to see a talented editor find the essential parts of the film as is, or even better, take a look at Malick's raw footage. The man played here interestingly by August Diehl who is best known to audiences as the other cunning Nazi in Inglourious Basterds, and gets a chance to play against that nefarious type. This in the opposite quite strictly as a man persecuted by the Nazis, though who more than anything wishes to live a relatively simple life, however wishes to do so with his beliefs intact.

This performance is strictly connected with the work of Valerie Pachner as Franz's wife Franziska. The two of them together realize the essential heart of the film through being at the center of so many of Malick's lingering shots of people seeming to be one within their natural environment. This here though in the couple that we are granted a sincerity of love. This created between both performers that is rather special in their chemistry. This in that there is, even as we don't see a courtship beyond a few glimpses, an honest depth within their affection for one another. It is easy to feel the years of a marriage through the comfort each have in each other's presence and just the sense the two exude as together as one in a way. Of course the amount of scenes Malick devotes to this is beyond the point of the rule of any repetition, but they do offer that fundamental grace Malick is looking for. The two are not boring together, and there is something very potent and powerful of just seeing two people in love experiencing their simple life. The performances capture that and in these moments manage to feel more tangible than merely models for Malick's landscapes. This seemingly perfect existence though is broken by the Nazi regime that demands Franz swear loyalty to Hitler and fight for his army.

This is then the process of the film as we see Franz in his gradual journey to his tragic end. This is where Diehl's performance itself is most specific in portraying Franz's state, even though he has very few words to speak regarding his individual thoughts. Diehl's work though does realize them and illuminate the state of the man. This in portraying Franz not as this loud and passionate ideolog, but rather a man with a faith and truth that he must stand by. Diehl finds something rather striking in this in portraying it as this certain burden, as he portrays the early moments of men attacking his position, with this quiet internalized intensity reflecting his thoughts. This as his eyes convey the determination in his mind, even as he exudes a meekness of a man who doesn't wish to influence others, but rather must follow his belief no matter where they may take him. This is most remarkable in his scenes with where even  Franziska is not entirely with his resolve, given that it will lead to his death. Diehl is fantastic in these interactions though as he captures the heartbreak within Franz towards his wife, portraying a man who certainly has the desire within him to take the easy way out, yet knows that he cannot betray his essential truths. Diehl finds an unusual martyr in creating a purity of the beliefs, showing them as this given of a man who knows simply what is right, and in the same way is aware he will have to suffer for this belief.

The film's second half is unfortunately rather repetitive in showing Franz's slow progression towards his eventual execution, where he goes from one imprisonment to another, one interrogator to another, while maintaining contact to his family through letters. The harrowing nature of this journey sadly is somewhat reduced again by Malick's insistence on indulging, rather than narrowing towards the heart of the drama, which he seemed to have filmed yet refuses to focus upon. I have to admit I do find this extremely frustrating because when the scenes do appear, they are astonishing within themselves. Take the moment of his trial, where Diehl's expression is downright haunting again in as his face captures all of the wear of his imprisonment, his exile away from his family, yet too the conviction within himself is there all the same. What is perhaps the best scene in the film, is where Malick lets Franz speak a few more words to the prociding General (Bruno Ganz) who questions his actions. Diehl is outstanding in this scene as he does speak his words with not an outward passion, but rather that rather divine conviction. The sense of weight of the choice permeating in every word, yet Diehl's quietly inspirational by evoking this fundamental certainty, this honest soulfulness of a man suffering through his reality yet quietly assured by the spirit. There is nothing I can say against what Diehl does here, as even in Malick's seemingly ending scenes of Franz's staring, people standing, random movements, or more provincial scenes of solemn beauty, Diehl's work remains a moving tapestry of emotions within itself. This in each successive shot continuing that heartbreaking journey towards death, slowly being worn within a grief in his eyes, yet still always maintaining some sense of comfort all the same. His final letter, which Malick really should've ended the film on as a montage, is unquestionably evocative, made all the more affecting through Diehl's sincere delivery of each word that represents both the horrible tragedy of the man's story, and the reaffirming sense of love and faith that defines who Franz is. Watching the film for a second time I found it a more vexing experience than the first, as I could see the greatness of Malick so vividly again, yet the indulgence of Malick kept rearing its head to get in the way of this. This creating an unneeded distance from the tragedy just for the sake of technique, and excess. Malick compromises earnest emotion, for the sake of contrived, so called, naturalism. This is when the film is allowed to sit with the people, the performances of Diehl and Pachner, it is nearly masterful, but sadly that is too often lost to needless navel gazing. I hate that can't expresse a greater love for Diehl's performance here, as I think the greatness is there, Malick just refuses to let us experience it without compromise. 

31 comments:

Calvin Law said...

:(

Is Pachner still a 5?

And disagree in that I actually thought the second half whole repetitive did ensue in some amazing scenes that was enough to keep me going and the execution scene was masterfully some. Easy 5, although I do agree he is somewhat limited and perhaps somewhere down along the line I’ll switch him and Driver.

Bryan L. said...

I suspected this.

Charles H said...

There is potential for a greater performance, but i still believe him to be a 5. Also, i wouldn't be surprised if Pachner was downgraded because their performances are about equal and wouldn't work at all without each other.

Calvin Law said...

:(

Anonymous said...

Diehl 4,5?! WTF!

Will Dafoe, Pattinson, De Niro, MacKay and Sandler get 4 or 4.5?

Bryan L. said...

For me, Diehls a 4.5 because he indeed gets stuck with the most repetitive material, yet Pachners a 5 because she’s striking and has more dynamic scenes in the film overall.

I wonder if this film could’ve/would’ve been a contender if it had a much shorter runtime.

Michael McCarthy said...

I guess I’ll be the one who totally agrees with you on this one, Louis. I especially liked what you said about the “contrived naturalism” which summed up a problem I had with the film that I couldn’t quite put into words.

Frankly if you hadn’t given Pachner a five I never would’ve doubted that this would be his rating.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Can't wait for De Niro's review (which I guess is next). It's honestly between him and Driver for my win.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: No, I think it's LaBeouf/MacKay, then De Niro/Sandler and finishing with Dafoe/Pattinson.

Calvin Law said...

I’m rooting for LaBeouf to get a 5 now since I do think this is at the very least a 9 5’s worthy year.

Calvin Law said...

Also I’ve changed from Diehl to Driver in my top 5. Try as I might I can’t deny that he is in many ways more limited by his role.

Luke Higham said...

Top Ten prediction
1. Dafoe/Pattinson (or Dafoe #1 and Pattinson #3)
3. Sandler (Alternatively, #2)
4. De Niro
5. Driver
6. MacKay
7. DiCaprio
8. Paul
9. LaBeouf
10. Banderas/Harrison Jr.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: I could see Driver going higher.

Also, my top 10 for the lead categories for the decade now would be: -

1. Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky
2. Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt
3. Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4. Ryan Gosling, First Man
5. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
6. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
7. Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead
8. Hugh Jackman, Logan
9. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Andrew Garfield, Silence

1. Amy Adams, Arrival
2. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Rooney Mara, Carol
4. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
6. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
7. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
8. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
9. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
10. Yoon Jeong-hee, Poetry

Luke Higham said...

For sheer, honest, emotional power, Mikkelsen's my #1 hands down.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Your rating for each season of Peaky Blinders so far, and your MVP for each? Overall MVP as well

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Mikkelsen is my #1 of the decade too. I don't even see a performance there, it's just such phenomenal, unassuming work.

Calvin Law said...

Oh yea, I saw Queen & Slim today. I liked it slightly, but only slightly, more than Louis I think. Lots of wasted potential for sure.

Calvin Law said...

God, Bong Joon-ho is such a class act: https://www.indiewire.com/2020/01/bong-joon-ho-best-parasite-oscar-noms-1202207288/?fbclid=IwAR3KQu1koVko29NpLoQqqP_rrE-WYeQtQ3Wpio4BNUQFgsLG9Pg-Y98lRjY

Luke Higham said...

Guys, if it somehow releases by the end of the year, Joel Coen's Macbeth is definitely in my top 5 most anticipated films of 2020.

Luke Higham said...

Bryan:
Series 1-3: 5
4-5: 4.5

1-2: Sam Neill
3: Cillian Murphy
4-5: Tom Hardy

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Pachner is still a five as I felt the latter half of the film gave her more dynamic material to work with, which was separate from Diehl's work.

Bryan:

Waititi's direction of Thor: Ragnarok is kind of where you see the strongest singular vision in a Marvel film, though it is still constricted within the marvel machine to a certain extent. The machinery is found in the action scenes, which we haven't seen Waititi do action before, this doesn't really have his sense of his vision within it for the most part. They're not bad, however I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of it was second unit. I should note there is moments within the action, character moments, and designs that are Waititi, but the action itself doesn't really have that extra touch of inspiration, not they are bad. This is furthered in technically the main plot, though it feels like the subplot to Waititi and myself, of Thor's sister. Here we do get some imagery that is some real vision of Waititi, particularly in the Valkyrie flashback, where he manages to evoke a modernized Jack Kirby effectively in directing the design of it all. His heart clearly is not in that, and his heart is far more in the misadventures of Thor, as a Waititi style hero. This is where we get his vision in his allowance for much improvisation for the sake of comedy,  the absurd imagery, and what should be the A-plot in the overthrow of the Grandmaster. All this we get a sense of that Waititi fun, though balanced properly. I'll say actually when the character moments feel most Waititi, who has consistently shown a knack for drama, like the Thor/Loki elevator scene, rather than anything involving Blanchett. When Waititi's direction feels like his own, the film is at his best, I mean to the point of insulting previous Marvel chicanery, as a personal favorite of mine is Thor doing the lame "sun's getting real low big guy" from Avengers: Age of Underwhelming expectations. It isn't pure Waititi, but it is enough, that it is a Marvel film where re-watches have been favorable, since the Waititi continues to shine through while the Marvel machine fades.

Louis Morgan said...


Waititi's direction of Jojo Rabbit is far more pure Waititi of course, right down to the way he adapted a book, that hold little resemblance to his original take on the material. Although I suppose this film more than any of his, shows perhaps his likely being influenced by Wes Anderson. Waititi loves vibrant colors in the majority of his films to begin with, however this one feels the most closely related to an Anderson influence, in that its costumes/production design are kind of "what would a third Reich by Wes Anderson" looks like, though less symmetrical. This might i add is not a criticism, as all filmmakers have influences. That approach, along with the overall "fairyland" works though in crafting it from child's perspective. Waititi furthers this in song choices, often amusing in themselves notably German Beatles, that create a vivacious quality within the story. Waititi is true to his aim though in sticking with this idea, not focusing on the horrors, though that is touched upon, and rather on the idea of change through love. Whether or not this approach is "right" seems to be the point of disagreement. Waititi's method pure within this approach though, and artfully inserts the moments of the darker belly as they relate strictly to Jojo's perspective which is a constant. That being to the point we see the horror from his shortened view, quite powerfully. Now that is the daring on top of, just his ability to create a colorful film, wonderful comic moments, and just a real energy to his work behind the camera.

Luke:

Harrowing/Haunting:
1. "House of Woodcock" - Phantom Thread2. "The Atlas March" - Cloud Atlas
3. "For the Hungry Boy" - Phantom Thread (although really every piece from Phantom counts as haunting I thin, so I'll limit)4. "A Hidden Life" - A Hidden Life
5. "Time" - Inception6. "Come Back to Us" - 1917
7. "Crater" - First Man8. "Soohyun's Theme" - I Saw the Devil
9. "All the Best Memories Are Her's" - Blade Runner 204910. "The Tide" - Dunkirk

Overall:
1. "House of Woodcock" - Phantom Thread2. "The Atlas March" - Cloud Atlas
3. "The Landing" - First Man
4. "For the Hungry Boy" - Phantom Thread5. "A Hidden Life" - A Hidden Life
6. "Sixteen Hundred Men" - 1917
7. "Time" - Inception
8. "Epilogue" - La La Land9. "Supermarine" - Dunkirk10. "No Time For Caution" - Interstellar

HM to:
"Dwarven motif" - The Hobbit (Theme worthy of LOTR)

Calvin Law said...

Louis: I can agree with that on Pachner though I still think Diehl had loads of great scenes to work with. I will say though that I agree there was an all-time great performance potential from it.

And so happy to see 1917 make the list. Surprised nothing from Mandy made it, the love theme would definitely be in there for me.

Bryan L. said...

I might’ve read somewhere that Waititis heart/passion was more in the acting scenes for Thor: Ragnarok and less so in the action. I can’t confirm it officially, but it makes enough sense.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your 1990s/2000s A Hidden Life cast. I've seen photos of Franz and Mark Rylance looks abit like him.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: I think Diane Kruger could be a good fit for Pachners part in the 2000s.

Bryan L. said...

Or Julia Jentsch as well

Luke Higham said...

Saw the F9 trailer and man, they've made me care even less about this franchise. The last couple of shots really pissed me off.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

90's:

Franz: Mark Rylance (Although his work was limited at the time, seems like someone who would work with Malick.)
Franziska: Embeth Davidtz

2000's:

Franz: Johannes Krisch
Franziska: Diane Kruger

For a series that thrived in ridiculousness and absurdity, they somehow jumped the shark, quite impressive.

Psifonian said...

I really wish Malick would steer away from that fish-eye lens already.

Mitchell Murray said...

Luke: (Sigh) The franchise used to be fun, in its own silly way, but everything after "Furious 7" just has teetered past that realm of "knowingly" dumb entertainment into just dumb entertainment. And really, "Furious 7" would've already been a fitting conclusion to the series, considering its genuinely touching tribute to Walker, so there was no point in continuing the franchise past the obvious reason..

So yah, not on board for the 9th one at all.