Opening 10 Jan 2013
Hannah Arendt was born Jewish, 1906, in Hanover. She studied in Marburg and Freiburg and had an affair with her teacher, the philosopher Martin Heidegger. She fled from the Nazis to France. Here she met her second husband Heinrich Blücher and together they went through Spain and Portugal to the U.S. She was a teacher, writer and philosopher.
Director Margarethe von Trotta pinpoints four years of Arendt’s very active life from 1961-64. Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) lives in a New York apartment with Blücher. She has a secretary Ingrid Scheib-Rothbart and illustrious friends, each one more intellectual than the other, e.g., Mary McCarthy. She and these friends, known as “the tribe,” get together in her apartment for long discussions. They smoke and hug a lot. At this time, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi responsible for sending people to concentration camps in World War II, is arrested in Argentina and sent to Israel to stand trial for his crimes. The editor of The New Yorker Magzaine, William Shawn, sends her to Jerusalem to cover the trials. She returns with the impression that Eichmann is just a little Männlein who follows orders. After two years of research, she publishes articles about Eichmann called “The Banality of Evil” (later in 1963 a book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil). This could be her greatest work and it caused a huge outcry and loss of friends.
Margarette von Trotta is the perfect director for the life of an important German woman (after successful films about Rosa von Luxemburg and Hildegard von Bingen, for example). Barbara Sukowa has made several films with von Trotta and here, again, she is perfect as Hannah Arendt. She speaks German with her friends in New York and Israel, and perfect English when lecturing at the university. The highlight of the film is an eight-minute, mesmerizing speech in English to her students, in which she lays out the results of her research and her theory about the banality of evil.
Barbara Sukowa, herself, lived in Hamburg at the beginning of her career; her son attended the International School in Hamburg. She immigrated to the U.S., but like other Germans in the U.S. such as James Last or Thomas Gottschalk, she still has a highly successful career on this side of the ocean, luckily for us. The scenes with Adolf Eichmann are the original black and white films from the actual trial, in which he does seem like Mister Milquetoast. This is an excellent film, enjoyable for the moment, but it also raises an interest to learn more. In fact, recent research shows that, perhaps, Eichmann wasn’t as timid as he seemed, but actually was acting a role. (Becky Tan)