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Friday, 02 August 2013 00:00

'Hannah Arendt' debates and dramatizes weighty issues

Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt www.zeitgeistfilms.com / Véronique Kolber
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Margarethe von Trotta
  • Dates: Opens August 2, 2013

Describing herself as a political theorist because of her interest in the communal, not the individual, Hannah Arendt is well known for her observations on "the banality of evil." German director Margarethe von Trotta's film "Hannah Arendt" fully interrogates that concept, putting it into a full, complex context.

A fascinating intellectual, Arendt escaped in 1941, along with her then husband and mother, to the U.S. from a concentration camp in southern France. The film picks up Hannah's life in New York in the 1960s and crosscuts between her job as a New School lecturer and her coverage of the Adolph Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Writing initially a five-part article for The New Yorker, Hannah published her extensive analysis in 1963 as the book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil."

In her writings, Hannah describes Eichmann as less a monster than a cog in the bureaucracy, finds fault with the German and Polish Jewish leaders, and takes Israel to task for its handling of the trial. This led to bitter debates amidst harsh criticism of Arendt, who was clearly misguided in accepting Eichmann's testimony and in believing that he had limited knowledge, functioning merely as a bureaucrat.

The film doesn't include all the details that would add greater perspective, but no one limited work, running under two hours, can probe the multifaceted issues and events involved here. Still, seldom has such a robust examination been presented through such captivating drama with so much at stake. "Hannah Arendt" makes crystal clear that history, the Holocaust and, Israel's trial of some who perpetrated it matter immensely then--and now, including connections with contemporary war criminals and calls for justice.

As Arendt, Barbara Sukowa is spectacular. She makes thinking and debating ideas a thrilling exercise, one dramatized in numerous exchanges. Co-writer Von Trotta has directed Sukowa in several other outstanding films, and these two work together in perfect synch. "Hannah Arendt" is equally upsetting and provocative, appealing to our heads and our hearts through a first-rate biographical portrait. In English and in German, French and Hebrew, all with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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