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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.”

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. 

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