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Cannes: Fox Searchlight Nabs Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life’

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Fox Searchlight has picked up rights for U.S. and several international territories on Terrence Malick’s contemplative World War II drama “A Hidden Life,” following its enthusiastic reception at the Cannes Film Festival.

“A Hidden Life” tells the true story of the Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who rejected Adolf Hitler and objected to the war. He was ultimately ostracized by his community, imprisoned for his convictions, and executed. Bidders such as Netflix and A24 were circling the project after its world premiere on Sunday.

The movie, which is headlined by Austrian actor August Diehl, marks Malick’s return to the Cannes Film Festival competition following his Palme d’Or winning 2011 “The Tree of Life.” Diehl stars opposite Valerie Pachner. The cast also includes Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti, the late Bruno Ganz and Matthias Schoenaerts.

The reviews have been strong, but Malick movies have been box office duds in recent years. He hasn’t had a film that cracked $1 million at the domestic box office since 2011’s “The Tree of Life,” which Searchlight also released and pushed to a $13.3 million haul. Malick tone poems such as “Knight of Cups” ($566,006), “Song to Song” ($443,684), and “To the Wonder” ($587,615) collapsed on the shoals of audience indifference. Presumably, Searchlight thinks it can push “A Hidden Life” into the awards season fray. The studio has successfully used that kind of attention in the past to help difficult films such as “Birdman” and “The Favourite” achieve commercial success.

The movie will undoubtedly be bolstered by the warm critical response it received upon premiering in competition at Cannes. Variety’s review said it “…poses tough questions about personal faith in a world gone astray in this epic return to form.”

If the film doesn’t receive Oscar buzz, it could be in trouble. Diehl is hardly a household name, the subject matter is a tough one, the running time is three hours, and Malick is press shy and can’t be counted on to bang the drum for his movies. At the Cannes premiere, festival chief Thierry Frémaux practically hurled himself in front of a camera man who was taking footage of the reclusive director as he basked in a standing ovation.

CAA Media Finance sold the film with Mister Smith. The deal is rumored to be in the $12 million to $14 million range, which, if true, is nearly $12 million more than Malick’s past four films made at the box office combined.

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