The mystery — and the possible lesson for the present — dwells in the question of Franz’s motive. Why, of all the people in St. Radegund, was he alone willing to defy fascism, to see through its appeal to the core of its immorality? His fellow burghers, including the mayor, are not depicted as monstrous. On the contrary, they are normal representatives of their time and place. Franz, whose father was killed in World War I, who works the land with a steady hand, a loyal wife and three fair-haired children, seems like both an ideal target of Nazi propaganda and an embodiment of the Aryan ideal. How did he see through the ideology so completely?
The answer has to do with his goodness, a quality the movie sometimes reduces to — or expresses in terms of — his good looks. Diehl and Pachner are both charismatic, but their performances amount mainly to a series of radiant poses and anguished faces. Franz is not an activist; he isn’t connected to any organized resistance to Hitler, and he expresses his opposition in the most general moral terms. Nazism itself is depicted a bit abstractly, a matter of symbols and attitudes and stock images rather than specifically mobilized hatreds. When the mayor rants about impure races, either he or the screenplay is too decorous to mention Jews.
And this, I suppose, is my own argument with this earnest, gorgeous, at times frustrating film. Or perhaps a confession of my intellectual biases, which at least sometimes give priority to historical and political insight over matters of art and spirit. Franz Jägerstätter’s defiance of evil is moving and inspiring, and I wish I understood it better.
A Hidden Life
Rated PG-13. Evil in the midst of beauty, and vice versa. In English and German, without subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 53 minutes.