Terrence Malick May Refuse to Campaign, but ‘A Hidden Life’ Should Be an Oscar Contender

As the stars of Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” August Diehl and Valerie Pachner, walked the red carpet at the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the famously reclusive writer-director was nowhere to be seen.

Nor did he appear in video footage of the six-minute standing ovation that his film received that night.

But it turns out that the 75-year-old auteur was there in the audience, watching the movie from a seat in the back of the theater, out of the spotlight.

That’s classic Malick, who’s nothing if not consistent. He’s one filmmaker you won’t see pounding the pavement for awards attention despite any buzz around “A Hidden Life,” which tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to fight for the Nazis after Hitler invaded Austria. Unlike most of Malick’s other works, “A Hidden Life” is his most story-driven film, told through the eyes of Jägerstätter (Diehl) and his wife (Pachner). 

Letters between the two helped form the script. “Like some of Terry’s earlier works, ‘A Hidden Life’ has a strong narrative structure based on historical occurrences,” producer Elisabeth Bentley tells me. “We also used a script in shooting, which Terry has not done in his recent work.”

Popular on Variety

It’s this accessibility that should push “A Hidden Life” into the Oscar race. Since his debut, 1973’s “Badlands,” Malick has become one of the most respected contemporary auteurs. His 11 films have earned 15 nominations, with one win going to Néstor Almendros for cinematography for 1978’s “Days of Heaven.”

Malick himself received best director and adapted screenplay nods for “The Thin Red Line” and another director nod for “The Tree of Life.”

But no matter how accessible the film may be or how great its chances of taking home Oscars, Malick won’t be changing his ways anytime soon. He is not a campaigner. He is not a promoter. He hardly does any press. Most people in Hollywood wouldn’t recognize him if they passed him on the street. Malick stands in stark contrast to his fellow directors: Martin Scorsese has been everywhere with “The Irishman,” Noah Baumbach has been promoting “Marriage Story” ever since its premiere in Venice, and Greta Gerwig kicked off the “Little Women” awards circuit by introducing the film at its first screenings last month. 

“He’s sort of a purist,” says “A Hidden Life” producer Grant Hill about Malick. “He wants to tell stories. He’s the nicest person I know, but he doesn’t want to get into selling or building up his work. He just wants to be who he is and do the work he wants to do and be lucky enough to do.”

At the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, where Pachner was honored with the Discovery Award for her work in the movie, the actor told me, “I think for him the art itself is more important [than publicity]. I do know that he cares about people seeing it. I’m sure he wants a lot of people to see it. Every artist wants that. … He’s more about wanting to [make the film] and whatever happens, happens.”

“A Hidden Life” could — and should — earn a best picture nomination as well as one for original screenplay. Could Malick help its chances by doing even
the slightest bit of campaigning? Yes. But he won’t, I’m sure much to the chagrin of Fox Searchlight, which snapped up the film for $12 million to $13 million at Cannes and released his movie “The Tree of Life” in 2011.

Will you see Malick at the Oscars if “A Hidden Life” earns a nomination or two? Probably not, but you may want to check the back of the Dolby just to be sure. 

More Voices

  • Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder

    Oscars 2020 Predictions: Who Will Get Nominated?

    The Oscar race is on. And it’s about to get a lot more intense when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 92nd Oscars on Jan. 13. Golden Globes shutout “The Irishman” is favored to earn several nods, as will “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which went home [...]

  • Golden Globes Analysis Oscar Race

    Why Golden Globes Will Likely Have Little Effect on Oscar Nominations (Column)

    With the Globes now behind us and Oscar noms rapidly approaching on Jan. 13, what should we be paying attention to in Hollywood’s biggest film awards race? Surefire bets are Globe winners Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), who already has one Oscar, and Brad Pitt, who should garner his third acting nomination for his work in Quentin [...]

  • Renee Zellweger "Judy" Pathe

    Golden Globes Predictions: Who Will Win in the Film Categories?

    With the Golden Globes just around the corner, there’s only one thing that seems inevitable: Renée Zellweger will win for best actress in the drama category when the awards are handed out on Jan. 5. Besides that, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. can go in so many different directions, as the Globes are arguably the [...]

  • Joe Talbot Jimmie Fails Last Black

    Want a Career in the Arts? Build a Community (Guest Column)

    Last November, 400,000 writers from around the world agreed to spend a month with their friends writing novels. They met in libraries and cafés, cheered on by 1,000 volunteers. One writer, a 20-year-old college student, recently signed a two-book publishing deal. Previous novelists have had their books turned into Hollywood movies. And it wasn’t just [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Can 'Little Women' Recover for Oscars After SAG Nominations Shutout?

    Where in the world was “Little Women”? That was the big question this morning when the 2020 SAG Award nominations were announced. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel was completely shut out by Wednesday’s nominations. It comes on the heels of “Little Women” snagging just two Golden Globe noms for Saoirse Ronan for lead [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content