Hannah Arendt was a significant thinker. She had written on the origins of totalitarianism and was appreciated as a philosopher. Jewish, she had escaped with her mother from Germany in the late 1930s to the US.
This is a film of interest to those who know about Hannah Arendt, her life and career. It will also be of interest to those who know little about her but want to find out her contribution to 20th century thinking. If an audience is not interested in Hannah Arendt and her work, they will find this sometimes detailed look at her and her philosophy hard going, or too-hard going.
The director, Margarethe von Trotte, has had a long career in film but has concentrated so many times on significant women and women’s issues. Her leading lady for Hannah Arendt, Barbara Sukowa, has appeared in several of the director’s films playing, amongst others, Rosa Luxembourg and Hildegard of Bingen. Here she creates a very strong impression as Hannah Arendt.
The principal focus of the film is Hannah and on Adolf Eichmann, his being taken by Israeli agents in Argentina, subsequent extradition to Jerusalem, and then his trial, where he was ultimately found guilty and hanged.
Hannah Arendt asked the editor of The New Yorker to report on the trial. Her husband, Heinrich, was against her going. But, wanting to ground her philosophical reflections in facts and experience, she was determined to. The film has some brief scenes of the trial, Hannah sitting in the benches, working in the press room watching the television screen, and some actual television footage of Eichmann himself, the prosecutor and the judge. There are several re-enactments, as well as footage, of some of the witnesses and their emotional response to the treatment of the Jews and the Holocaust. Looking at Eichmann, we see a small man, very ordinary-looking, a bureaucrat rather than a charismatic leader. This was to be the core of Hannah Arendt’s comments on the trial.
Perhaps this film is more of a visual lecture about Hannah Arendt than an inventive cinema experience. But, to the extent that it portrays Hannah, her ideas, and the controversies about the Eichmann trial and her reporting, it is worth seeing.
- Peter Malone, ACOFB
Starring Barbara Sukowa and Janet McTeer. Directed by Margarethe von Trotte. 113 minutes. PG (Mild themes and sexual references).