“What’s happened to our country? To the land we love?”
Story: Austrian Franz Jägerstätter is happy in his village. He farms, he loves his family, and he gathers with his fellows at the local beer garden. But this is WWII, and every able bodied Austrian man must do his service for the Reich. Understandably, Jägerstätter isn’t keen and demurs, even with shunning and even death looming before him.
Genre I’d put it in: Bladder Punishing Gripping Biopics
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the true story of Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector during WWII who was beatified by the Catholic church in 2007.
Gotta say: I’m going to keep this brief because 1) it’s the holiday season and we’re all bogged down with stuff, and 2) I have gallstones that are kicking my…gallbladder. (Surprise – Merry Christmas to me, y’all.)
So, Life is excellent. It’s a very slow burning film that takes its sweet time to unfold. Then again, what else do you expect from director Terrence Malick? He loves himself some navel gazing. But this obsessive scrutiny works well here, giving viewers a deep understanding of Jägerstätter, his personal world, and the cost of his decision on those around him. It’s a beautiful, painful story, and Malick does an excellent job of shedding light on this “hidden” individual.
There’s an undeniable philosophical/moral link to the rise of reactionary conservative beliefs in the world today. Those who do not learn history aredoomed to repeat it, and all that. This lends an urgency to the narrative, one I’m sure the creators intended. Malick is the master of show, don’t ever tell, but this Life is much more digestible than his Tree of Life, perhaps due to the current film’s philosophical connection to current events. Plus, there’s no real Kubrickian oddness for oddness’ sake here. The story has too much depth in and of itself to bother with an overabundance of flash. Those Austrian vistas are dazzle enough.
Come for the story that doesn’t so much pull your heartstrings than crush them under your feet while murmuring words of sympathy. Stay for the absolutely breathtaking visuals by cinematographer Jörg Widmer (Tree of Life, V for Vendetta) and a breathtakingly talented cast, all of whom deserve a wider audience here in the States.
Just make sure you plan your multiplex time wisely. At three hours, Life can be a bladder punisher. I’d like to say it’s over long, but I can’t seem to find a reason beyond physical relief to do so. Bargain with your kidneys, settle in, and let this film wash over you. Life is award season cinema of the highest order.
#Protip: As our lovely contributor Gus Russo pointed out during the screening, there’s very little music in this film. That really focuses the attention of viewers onto the dialogue and background noise in the narrative. It’s a powerful use of cinematic sound.