CANNES, France (AP) — "Where's Terrence Malick?"
It's a familiar question for the famously press-shy filmmaker that was, predictably, hollered again Monday at the Cannes Film Festival. Malick, whose "Tree of Life" won the Palme d'Or in 2011, returned to the French festival with a movie whose title could double for a description of the seldom-seen director himself: "A Hidden Life."
The film, based on the true story of an Austrian conscientious objector to Adolf Hitler's army in World War II, premiered Sunday night in Cannes where Malick was, in fact, in attendance. Though he eluded the festival's red carpet photographers, a tuxedoed Malick was given a warm standing ovation following the film. The filmmaker — whom TMZ (not known for the most refined taste in film) has called "a Hollywood Bigfoot" — was even caught in a handful of photographs that quickly circulated on social media.
Perhaps that made some in the Cannes press corps hopeful that Malick would show up at the film's press conference Monday, too. After all, the reclusive Jean-Luc Godard called in to talk to reporters on FaceTime last year . But the lone representatives for the film — stars August Diehl and Valerie Pachner — had no response to shouts about Malick's whereabouts other than: "We don't know!"
The more exciting reveal for critics, anyway, was "A Hidden Life." The film is about Franz Jagerstatter (Diehl), who refused to fight for the Nazis. When he's imprisoned, his wife (Pachner) raises their three daughters alone while tending to their alpine farm on a lush mountainside.
"A Hidden Life," which runs about three hours, was hailed by some critics as the director's best film in years, perhaps since "The Tree of Life." In some critical quarters, Malick's more recent output — including "To the Wonder," ''Knight of Cups" and "Song to Song" — have grown too full of performative bliss, and lack the cohesion of earlier films like "The New World" and "The Thin Red Line."
While "A Hidden Life" may not win back many who have strayed from Malick's flock, its majesty is more grounded in a linear narrative, one deeply rooted in spirituality and faith. IndieWire called it a "lucid and profoundly defiant portrait of faith in crisis." Variety called it "an epic return to form."
Fox Searchlight acquired "A Hidden Life" shortly after its premiere.
As is often the case with Malick's productions, the film was shot years before finally seeing the light of day. Diehl and Pachner said they, too, patiently awaited updates on its post-production progress.
"It seems to not be a linear process this editing. It's more like circles," said Pachner. "We talked to Terry and the editors throughout those two and a half years, and they'd always be like: 'It's so good you didn't see it already because now it's so different now and it's so much better now.'"
The passage of time was enough to see several of its actors, Bruno Ganz and Michael Nyqvist, pass away in the interim. But Diehl said the arrival of "A Hidden Life" is timely.
"The person who says, 'No' — this is getting more and more rare in our whole world. We're all jumping on one train and saying, 'Yes, that's the world now. We have to go with it,'" said Diehl. "If there would be more people like this, especially right now in Europe with all the political developments, it would maybe be a solution. Maybe that's a bridge to our days."
Diehl pointed to the rise of the far-right in Europe and elsewhere as a further connection to "A Hidden Life." Later this week, elections to the European Parliament will be held in 28 countries.
"It is time to stand up against all this right-wing development in the whole of Europe. It's going a very wrong way," said Diehl. "We all have our private choices to make. Our voice counts, I think. Each voice."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP