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Hannah Arendt

Her ideas changed the world.

It’s probably too much to hope that director Margarethe von Trotta and her star, Barbara Sukowa, will do for Hannah Arendt what Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep did for Julia Child, but surely a fellow can dream. And in a manner not altogether dissimilar to the way Julie & Julia mastered the art of French cooking, Hannah Arendt conveys the glamour, charisma and difficulty of a certain kind of German thought. Ms. Sukowa, compact and energetic and not overly concerned with impersonation, captures Arendt’s fearsome cerebral power, as well as her warmth and, above all, the essential, unappeasable curiosity that drove her. Contemplating one of the great lives of the 20th century – Arendt was born in Germany in 1906 and died in New York in 1975, and she was an eyewitness to many of the central follies and catastrophes of the age – Ms. von Trotta concentrates on two exemplary and controversial episodes. The first is Arendt’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the furor that followed the publication of her reporting, first as a series of articles in The New Yorker and then as the book Eichmann In Jerusalem. The second, presented in flashbacks, is Arendt’s relationship with the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, her teacher and lover, who publicly joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and never publicly repented after the war. Heidegger, played by Klaus Pohl, and Eichmann, represented in real clips from his 1961 trial, are contrasting embodiments of the ‘dark time,’ as Arendt calls it, that shadows every aspect of her life. Though she and her husband, Heinrich Blücher (Axel Milberg), live in relative ease in 1960s Manhattan – their work teaching and writing blending seamlessly with a leisure of cocktail parties and discreet adultery on his part – the trauma of the Holocaust is never far away. In Eichmann’s trial, Arendt, an assimilated German Jew and a Zionist in her youth, sees an opportunity to stare in the face the horrors she had explored in The Origins Of Totalitarianism. The face she saw, famously, was a mask of bureaucratic blandness, summed up by her phrase ‘the banality of evil.’ Her description of Eichmann as a thoughtless, bloodless functionary rather than a monster led to accusations that she was defending him, just as her discussion of the role of Jewish leaders in the destruction of their communities provoked charges of victim blaming. Her staunchest ally was writer Mary McCarthy, played with winning verve and appropriate venom by Janet McTeer, who rallied Arendt’s morale and coached her in the martial arts of defense and counterattack. Their friendship (immortalized in a splendid volume of letters that has clearly served as one of Ms. von Trotta’s sources) is a fascinating study in cultural and temperamental contrast, an impulsive and witty American paired with a steady, phlegmatic German. Arendt is a challenging cinematic portrait. Her outwardly bookish existence challenges the ancient distinction between active and contemplative ways of living, but the work of thinking is notoriously difficult to show. Still, I would not hesitate to describe Hannah Arendt as an action movie, though of a more than usually dialectical type. Its climax, in which Arendt defends herself against critics, matches some of the great courtroom scenes in cinema and provides a stirring reminder that the labour of figuring out the world is necessary, difficult and sometimes genuinely heroic. – A.O. Scott, The New York TimesOfficial Trailer
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Directed by: 
Margarethe von Trotta
Running Time: 
110
Country(ies): 
Germany
Language: 
German with English Subtitles
Starring: 
Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer, Klaus Pol
Screenplay by: 
Pam Katz Margarethe von Trotta

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