A HIDDEN LIFE
A HIDDEN LIFE is based on the true story of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian
peasant farmer (August
Diehl) who refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler during World War II,
everything, including his life, rather than to fight for the Nazis.
Born and raised in the village of St. Radegund, Jagerstatter is farming his
land when war breaks out.
Married to Franziska (Fani) (Valerie Pachner), the couple are very much in love
and involved with
the tight-knit community. They live a simple life in the fertile valleys and
mountains of upper
Austria, with the passing years marked by the arrival of the couple's three
When Franz is called up to basic training, a requirement for all Austrian
men, he is away from his
beloved wife and children for months. Eventually, when France surrenders and it
seems the war
might end soon, he is sent back home. His mother and sister-in-law Resie come to
live with them,
and for a while things seem to go on as normal.
Instead of retreating, the war escalates, and Franz and the other men in the
village are called up to
fight. The first requirement of a new soldier is to swear an oath of allegiance
to Adolf Hitler and the
Third Reich. Despite pleas from his neighbors, fellow soldiers and commanding
refuses the oath-objecting to Hitler and the Nazi regime. With his quiet act of
resistance he asks
the question, "if leaders are evil, what does one do?" With a sense of personal
responsibility and the
inability to do what he believes is wrong, Franz refuses.
Meanwhile Fani is left to deal with the aftermath of his decision. Not only
is she now the caretaker
of the family's farm as well as her three young daughters, Fani is ostracized
from her community.
Fear of Hitler forces once kindly neighbors to turn their backs on the
Wrestling with the knowledge that his decision would mean arrest and likely
death, Franz finds
strength in Fani's love and support. He is imprisoned, first in Enns, then in
Berlin- and waits
months for trial. During his time in prison, he and Fani write letters to one
another and give each
After months of incarceration, the case goes to trial. Franz is found guilty
and sentenced to death.
While Franz's faith drives him to resist taking the oath to Hitler,
representatives from religious,
civic, government and military institutions plead with him to disavow his
beliefs and swear his
allegiance, even if he is disingenuous, in order to save his life. Franz
continues to stand up for his
beliefs and is executed by the Third Reich in August 1943. His wife and three
The relationship between Franz and his wife Fani endures. The film portrays
their bond as deeply
as Franz's devotion to his cause. At every turn Fani is there for Franz-strong,
supportive of his path while raising their daughters and running the farm alone,
help from her mother-in-law and sister.
Terrence Malick's film draws on actual letters exchanged between Franz and
Fani while Jagerstatter
was in prison. The collection was edited by Erna Putz and published in English
by Orbis Books.
Some lines have been added to the letters, and sometimes the letters are
The story was little known outside of St. Radegund, and might never have been
discovered, were it
not for the research of Gordon Zahn, an American who visited the village in the
Producer Grant Hill has worked on several of Malick's films before, including
The Thin Red Line.
Grant notes that the themes of A Hidden Life resonated with Malick: "It's an
love story that investigates human reactions and motivations and just how far
people will push for
their beliefs and conscience. It asks hard questions-do you have the right to
hurt people that you
love in service of the greater good? Ultimately, it is a timeless story of
devotion, love and
forgiveness writ large. I think those aspects appealed very much to Terry," Hill
A Hidden Life differs from the director's previous films in that it is his
first biographical film based
on real people whose descendants are still alive. "The family had suffered
enormously, and Terry
wanted Franz's daughters to be involved and give their stamp of approval. We set
up a meeting
with them through intermediaries to find out if there was a way for him to tell
the story that did
justice to the storyline and made them feel comfortable. Ultimately, they were
prepared to trust
Terry with Franz's legacy, and we worked with them throughout production," Hill
In the early days of the project Terrence Malick made the decision to only
cast Austrian and German
actors to preserve the authenticity of the story. Introduced by executive
producer Marcus Loges,
Malick and Hill worked with casting director Anja Dihrberg (The Captain) had to
find the right
alchemy of characters. Hill comments, "Even though I've spent time in Germany
and knew a lot of
the actors, it was astounding how many really talented people were coming out.
When casting the principal roles of Franz and Fani it was apparent that there
had to be a natural
relationship between the two roles. Valerie Pachner (The Ground Beneath My Feet)
and landed the role of Fani. "Valerie can light up the room. She is very strong
having been brought
up in that area. She knew exactly who that character would be," said Hill.
Knowing that they needed to find an exact match in Franz to Valerie's Fani,
the team was nearing
the end of the casting process when August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds) entered
the picture. Hill
remembers, "Terry had talked to August a number of times, but he was busy and
couldn't get in.
What was going to be our last session, Anja called late in the day and said that
August was in town
unexpectedly, and he could be over to the office in half an hour-he came in and
read the pages
with Valerie. In that first reading you could see it straight away. They moved
together and they had
both vulnerability and strength together."
Reflecting on the casting process August Diehl says, "I remember the first
time I read the script I
had a lot of talks with Terrence. He was curious about me and who he was going
to work with. I
remember talking about life and how we each see things," says Diehl. "I grew up
in France on a farm
without electricity. He was curious about all this, about how I live and what my
Diehl says he treated the letters between the husband and wife almost like
another script alongside
Valerie Pachner had her first conversations with Malick over the phone. "When
he called me the
first time we didn't make any small talk. We immediately talked about the world
and life and in that
moment, I just felt 'wow, that's where I want to go, this is someone I want to
Pachner, who grew up in Austria, felt close to the story. "People relied on
each other, and at that
time that also meant that you could not break out and be different. You had to
toe the line. That's
why this story is so unusual."
Malick sent her a book about women in the first World War working on the
farms when the men
were away fighting. She also got a present from a friend: a whole book about
Diehl describes working with Pachner as very special, "We were actually both
very much devoting
ourselves to the roles because it has so much to do with trust," he says. "You
have to trust
somebody very much to make this film and we risked a lot. And with Valerie I
felt-from the first
moment-that she was willing to do the same, to take the same risks."
For her part, Pachner describes working with Diehl as intense and intimate.
"The first five or six
weeks we were constantly together and constantly working," she says.
Hill credits the connection between the actors to casting director Anja
Dihrberg, "She played an
extraordinary role. She did a wonderful job in a very bespoke sort of way."
Cinematographer Joerg Widmer is a long time collaborator with Malick, and the
earlier Malick films provided a baseline language on which to build.
"Terry tends to avoid conventions and find new ways of storytelling and often
gives the actors a
large amount of freedom to experiment and the camera crew has to be equally open
possibilities," says Widmer. "Terry and I have a long history together and, as a
Steadicam operator on the five previous films, I was familiar with Terry's
approach. So it was easy
for me to understand and execute his style of framing and camera movements and
August Diehl was also familiar with Malick's work but never imagined he'd
work with him on a film,
let alone star in it. "It was so special. I have never experienced a film like
this, we were almost
constantly in a flow of shooting that allowed us to organically be in the moment
," says Diehl,
describing Malick's method of filming long takes.
Valerie Pachner adds that she felt empowered by Malick's style. "We were
encouraged to create
ourselves and I felt Terry trusted me. We were constantly talking about if there
was something else
that we should do? I really felt like we are doing this together. And that's
because of his trust. He
trusts the people working with him."
Pachner describes Malick as "very respectful, humble and kind, and also
radical. Radical in the way
that he's following his thoughts and his way of seeing things all the time and
inviting us to be part of
Pachner didn't want principal photography to end. "This sort of loving
collaboration is something that makes me really happy and proud at the same time
to have been a
LIGHT AND DARK
Early on, Malick and Widmer decided to shoot primarily using natural light,
turning to artificial
illumination only on rare occasions. At the mercy of nature, Widmer and his crew
had to be flexible.
"Changing lighting conditions required a continuous attention for stop
changes to ensure proper
exposure," explains cinematographer Widmer.
For all the other sets, including the prison cells, the team worked with the
sun, adjusting the
schedule to the appropriate time of day until they lost the light.
"The barns were always shot when the openings of the buildings provided
sunlight or at least
brightness," says Widmer.
The team only had to change the shooting schedule once: When the weather
forecasters said it
wasn't going to be sunny on the day they planned to shoot the interior of the
The production was shot digitally on the Red Epic Dragon camera system. The
camera was selected
for its ability to handle stark contrast within a scene, preserving details in
both the highlights and
shadows of the image, while still maintaining realistic color.
"We were prepared to keep the camera gear small," says Widmer. "The lighting
mostly of bounce boards and blacks."
The Jagerstatters lived in St. Radegund, a small village of 500 people in
Upper Austria, near
Salzburg and the German border-in the same province where Hitler was born and
spent his early
youth-not far from Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat during his years as head
of the German
The production spent 24 days in South Tyrol, the northernmost province of
Italy, then moved into
Austria itself, shooting for a few days in St. Radegund itself. For the prison
scenes, the production
spent the last 14 days in Zittau and Berlin, Germany.
Supervising art director Steve Summersgill says the locations were selected
for their texture,
authenticity and scope.
"Most importantly we learned that the natural light levels were very much
part of the decision making process as to whether or not a certain location may
or may not work," Summersgill says.
The film shot in churches and cathedrals, farms with real livestock,
orchards, up mountains, in
fields and along rural pathways. "Nature and the natural environment were part
of the subtext and
the locations provided us with a foundation to build up from," says Summersgill.
Production designer Sebastian Krawinkel carried out research on Franz
Jagerstatter and the
important places in his life, consulting letters and archive materials.
"We scouted some of the locations together a year in advance in order to see
them in the right
season," says Krawinkel. "For almost a year I had a weekly dialogue with Terry
about which sets he
would need and which locations and references he liked."
The production prepped in spring and shot in the summer. Two seasons were
captured with a small
splinter unit that came back to the locations later in the year, led by
Hill adds that filming on location, while at times remote and difficult, was
also important to the
film's overall authenticity. "Our actors trained and studied to use a scythe
just the way the local
farmers had for hundreds of years. Shooting in the real environment was very
important to him and
I think it went a long way in grounding the actors in terms of their characters
and this story," Hill
The historic background of the story required the production to avoid modern
buildings and signs
of contemporary life.
"We were fortunate to be able to shoot inside a working mill, a working
blacksmith's shop and
several real prisons," notes Krawinkel.
One of the prisons used was Hoheneck, the notorious Stasi prison near
Dresden, notorious for its
Another shot shows the exterior of Tegel prison as it stood in the
Jagerstatter's day. It is still a
working prison, so the production was obliged to shoot the Tegel interiors
A few scenes were shot in the St. Radegund locations where the events
depicted actually took
place-including certain interiors of the Jagerstatter house, which has over the
years become a
pilgrimage site, as well as by the Salzach river near St. Radegund and in the
woods below the house.
The clock visible on the wall of the Jagerstatter living room is the one that
Fani was listening to
when, at four in the afternoon on August 9, 1943, at the very hour of Franz's
remembered feeling her husband's presence.
The bedroom is theirs and looks as it did then. Her embroidery still hangs on
the walls. Franz and
Fani's three daughters-Maria, Rosalia and Aloisa-live in, or near, St. Radegund.
Fani passed away in
2013, aged 100.
Valerie Pachner, the actress who plays Fani, grew up in the same province 40
A few scenes were set at the farmhouse of a Jagerstatter friend and neighbor,
Today, the fields around St. Radegund are covered in corn, a crop that was
not grown at the time, as
well as with power lines and modern houses, some immediately adjacent to the
As a result, the production based higher up into the mountains than where the
village itself lies.
The production also filmed the Third Reich Berlin court trial scene in
Schoenberg in the infamous
Kammergericht building. "It was scary to be inside the real courtroom where the
so many to death," Krawinkel notes.
In addition to his work as a farmer, Franz Jagerstatter served as a sexton at
the local church. He
cleaned, rang the bell, and prepared weddings and funerals-without compensation
and in addition
to his duties as a farmer. The family's various pursuits required a wardrobe
that reflected not just
their interests but their economic status, all part of costume designer Lisy
Christl's commitment to
"There is always imagination with costumes. But in this case, the most
important part was getting
as close to the reality as possible," Christl explains. Christl, who is from
Bavaria in Southern
Germany, said the plethora of little museums in the mountain villages provided
materials. "We made costumes especially for the characters but there are many
out there. It was important to find nice, worn, old pieces."
"I have quite a lot of books from this time period. You can still find flea
markets with original
pictures," says Christl. "When we started to work in South Tyrol, I found a
fantastic book about
people in the mountains in these rural valleys. It was inspiring and the faces
of the people were
inspiring, real people working on the fields."
Christl's eye caught many small but pivotal details. For instance the
Wehrmacht German army
uniforms that that the Austrian recruits wore had one difference.
"The piping around the shoulder pieces were different-they were light blue
for these special units
(of the German army). It is very important to get it right but it is what I do
in my daily working life."
The film's composer James Newton Howard found his way to the film in a less
Grant Hill recalls, "We were at the point of working out if we were going to
bring in a composer or
whether we go with existing music. Terry had been experimenting with some of
James' music from
other films, and eventually reached out to him. It all happened so quickly."
Howard says scoring the film was a collaborative process. "One of the early
ideas Terry brought to
me, was to incorporate sounds he had captured during production such as church
bells from the
villages, cow and sheep bells, the saw mill, sounds from the prison, and scythes
in the fields," says
Howard. "I took many of those sounds and processed them into musical elements
that are woven
throughout the score."
Howard began his process after Malick sent him a series of short clips from
the film without any
sound or music.
"I wrote very loosely to picture, but we were able to establish the key
thematic material and sonic
identity of the score. As we moved forward, we chose to work mostly scene by
scene where I would
write something that he would react to, and then he would often mold the edit to
what I had done,"
Though the film takes place up against such an important historical backdrop,
the film at its core is
a human story. "I chose to focus on the emotional journeys and crises of
conscience of the
characters-writing music to reflect their story."
Howard began during the film edit. "After meeting with Terry at my studio in
Los Angeles, I flew to
Austin and met with his team to watch a cut of the film," he says. "We worked
March and May of 2018 and recorded everything in early June at Abbey Road
Studios in London.
"I felt the orchestra was best to reflect the vistas of St. Radegund. The
solo violin throughout the
film embodies the connection between our two main characters-performed by the
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