Reichardt’s hushed visual approach animates the movie into something more contemplative than its sweet, humorous screenplay might indicate. In her films, characters tend to look at things and think. A diegetic bird squaw might fill the silence, or a plucky banjo. In those moments, the object gazed upon becomes imbued with meaning.
The basic premise trades in the kind of casual absurdism that’s by now expected of Porumboiu. More surprising is the fact that The Whistlers plays much like a standard policier—a relatively by-the-book offering from a director who has distinguished himself by a willingness to throw out the manual.
While it’s tempting to view these histrionics as dramatic fabrications, almost everything that unfolds was captured on video recordings of the actual trial, and lifted from official testimony transcripts. Nonetheless, Bellocchio doesn’t resist the opportunity to ham up the fracas an extra notch or two, to discombobulating effect.
Ladj Ly has always used his camera to make sense of the immediate and concrete reality he lived in by documenting and interrogating it tirelessly. As such, the director’s late blooming success since the film’s premiere at Cannes last May feels somehow like justice, the reward for a relentless endurance.
A Hidden Life reminds us that a courageous moral act need not be immediately efficacious to produce meaningful impact. His calm certitude, arrived at through faith, personal reflection, and individual experience, poses a challenge to all those around him, especially those who have decided for various reasons to align themselves with the forces of nationalism.