CANNES, France (Reuters) - A World War Two drama by U.S. director Terrence Malick is proving one of the Cannes film festival’s most divisive premieres yet, with some critics hailing a cinema master at the top of his game and one calling it “a big swing and a miss”.
“A Hidden Life”, about an Austrian man who refuses to fight for Nazi Germany, is a contender for the top Palme D’Or award, which Malick already won with “The Tree of Life” in 2011.
Set against a brooding Alpine backdrop, before it evolves into a prison drama, the film earned near-universal acclaim for its evocative camerawork, with lush landscapes and intimate family moments vividly brought to life.
“He gave us so much freedom during the whole shooting. Also he chooses angles and lenses that were so wide so you can actually have the whole stage for you,” actor August Diehl, who plays the protagonist, told a news conference on Monday.
But Malick - known for his resistance to public appearances of any kind, and absent from the red carpet at the Sunday premiere as well as the press event - split critics down the middle on most other fronts.
Based on real events, the movie tells the story of unsung hero Franz Jagerstatter, who risks prison by refusing to be drafted to fight for Adolf Hitler.
His decision leaves Franziska, the wife he adores, fending for the family and tending to their farm, as neighbours in their village turn hostile.
The film failed to delve deeply enough into its hero’s motivations, some said.
“Instead of embracing the weighty moral, religious and political components of the story, Malick has alternately deflected and minimized them,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy wrote, describing it “desperately indulgent”.
But Variety hailed “an epic return to form” that struck all the right notes as a exploration of personal faith.
Malick is in competition against the likes of Quentin Tarantino with his star-studded drama “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Pedro Almodovar’s semi-autobiographical film “Pain and Glory”.
The world’s biggest cinema showcase runs until May 25.
Reporting by Sarah White and Johnny Cotton; Editing by Frances Kerry