Film Review: “Hannah Arendt”
I will admit right away that this was a very difficult film to review. There’s no question that the story of Hannah Arendt, and how she went to Israel to attend and write about the trial of Nazi Adolph Eichmann, and the terrible response she got from the Jewish Community and much of the world when she finally published a series of articles in The New Yorker, is a truly fascinating story. The question for this writer is this: Does this make a good film, and if so, how do you define good film?
I have very mixed feelings. As a film, I can’t say that I found it “satisfying” in a classically dramatic way. Perhaps it wasn’t the intention of the director, Margarethe von Trotta, to make this a feel-good kind of experience for us. Maybe she had the idea that we had to suffer along with Arendt as she attends the trial, postpones writing her articles for The New Yorker, and ultimately suffers the slings and arrows of the public and her friends after her very controversial reporting is published. The most infuriating part of what she reports is that the Jewish community leaders in most of the countries taken over by Nazis, and during the deportations, was too co-operative with their oppressors. Most readers assumed that Arendt portrayed the victims as perpetrators of their own misfortune. Of course, this started a major controversy, and many of Arendt’s friends cut her off completely.
This story is very well told, by the director and her amazing cast of German and English-speaking actors. For me, the ultimate problem with the film is I didn’t know how to feel about what Arendt had written and her attitude towards Eichmann.
In the words of the term that Arendt coined, “the banality of evil,” there is something about Arendt’s view of Eichmann that both irked me and made me better understand that all monsters do not have horns and a pointed tail like Satan. If this was the director’s intent, she was successful. If she intended this film to be a cathartic experience for the audience, in that regard I believe she failed.
As portrayed by German actress, Barbara Sukowa in an amazing portrait of Arend from which we see many facets of a very complicated person. There was not one vision of Arendt that the other characters see, but many often conflicting views. Made somewhat difficult by the fact that Arendt was not a warm and fuzzy person person by nature, but a true original thinker, and maybe somewhat prickly at times, Sukowa breathes life into her character in a cold, Teutonic manner. Maybe that was the truth of the real Arendt, and maybe that’s what von Trotta wanted to show us. If that is the case, then the film is a success.
The cast, the production team, and all the technical departments did a great job in putting this film firmly in the time the story took place, both in style and attitude. It’s a first-class production that resonates with the questions posed by the life and writings of Arendt, questions I am still trying to answer.