‘A Hidden Life’ cinematographer Jorg Widmer on its meditation on martyrdom: ‘Every time I see it I want to cry’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“Basically it’s a Greek tragedy,” explains “A Hidden Life” cinematographer Jörg Widmer about the tragic story of “A Hidden Life.” “Franz doesn’t have a choice: he either goes to war and dies … or he sticks to his beliefs and goes to be executed.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Widmer above.

Directed by Terrence Malick, the film tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis and was ultimately executed for his disobedience. In 2007 he was declared a religious martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church. “[Malick] wanted to make a movie about some people who are heroes but never would be remembered as heroes in the big picture of history,” says Widmer.

As usual for Malick, the approach to this film was “very much about the visual, and it’s very much about these metaphysical images.” Indeed, Malick has long been known for his unique visual style, with four of his previous films earning Oscar nominations for their cinematography: “Days of Heaven” (1978), “The Thin Red Line” (1998), “The New World” (2005) and “The Tree of Life” (2011), with “Days of Heaven” winning the award.

But while the filmmaker had a specific vision for this story, his approach was more improvisational. Malick “gives you a lot of freedom … On the other hand you always have to be prepared to follow the unexpected because he doesn’t give too many restrictions to the actors either.” Widmer recalls a single take that lasted 43 minutes, with lead actors August Diehl as Franz and Valerie Pachner as his wife Franziska using the tools of their rural trade.

However, what Malick and Widmer don’t show in the film is just as important to its as effect as what they do show. For instance, the film suggests its tragic final act of violence without showing it outright, and that moved Widmer deeply when he saw the finished product. “Every time I see it I want to cry,” he reveals.

Widmer previously worked with Malick as a camera operator before being enlisted as the cinematographer for this film, though that didn’t change the working relationship much for the DP. “We know each other quite well, and I was quite pleased to get the call,” he says. He has also gotten the call for Malick’s next film, “The Last Planet,” which will also explore religious themes, this time by telling a story about Christ himself. But Widmer points out that it won’t be just a retelling of the Bible. “It’s about a philosophical approach,” he explains. That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Malick.

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