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Hannah Arendt

2012 | 113 min | Not rated | 2.39:1

Hannah Arendt


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Theatrical release date

 28 June, 2013
 27 September, 2013

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Hannah Arendt


Screenshots from Hannah Arendt Blu-ray

Hannah Arendt Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 27, 2013

I suppose “Hannah Arendt” could be classified as a bio-pic, covering a few critical junctures in the life of the famous writer, though there’s not enough here to convey a life lived in pursuit of thought. It’s a stable, distanced picture from director Margarethe von Trotta, who endeavors to bring to the screen a portrayal of intelligence disputed, successfully communicating the frustrations and defiance of Arendt, reflecting a thirst for knowledge and spotlighting her breathtaking confidence for a modern audience perhaps unused to such remarkable character. It’s a solid feature but not always the most dramatic, content to experience moments in time with the subject instead of wrapping her passions around the screen in an inviting manner.

Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) is a renowned writer and celebrated political theorist living in America with beloved husband Heinrich (Axel Milberg). Accepting an offer from The New Yorker to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann for crimes committed during his time as a Nazi officer, Hannah travels to Jerusalem to witness this unusual staging of justice. Defiant, clinging to his lowly position as a cog in a Nazi wheel that robbed him of choice, Eichmann refuses to take responsibility for his actions, an act of self-preservation that challenges Hannah to consider the true source of evil. Returning home, the writer gradually assembles her story, also reflecting on her time as a college student, embarking on a relationship with her philosophy professor, Martin (Klaus Pohl). Turning in powerful work that challenges Jewish leaders and brands Eichmann’s case as the “banality of evil,” Hannah is hit with immediate controversy, fielding death threats from those who refuse to understand her meaning. Championed by friend Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer), while concern emerges from an ailing Heinrich, Hannah processes the need to defend her ideas as the opposition aims to assassinate her character.

“Hannah Arendt” is a spare picture with minimal period flair, preferring to stick closely to the main character as she navigates a crisis of interpretation. The production doesn’t unfurl much in the way of a history for Hannah, filling the gaps with social hour debates from friends desperate to understand the writer’s perspective on the trial and evil itself. It’s conversation that educates the viewer on Hannah’s WWII internment camp past, her love of America and educational discourse, and prior accomplishments that have made her invaluable to the coverage of the Eichmann trial. It’s not a rounded portrait of temperament, but there’s enough to keep the picture engaging as a character study, observing how Hannah deals with detractors and doubters, reveling in the challenges of personal defense. There’s also room to explore her loving relationship with Heinrich, who finds it increasingly difficult to support his wife once the Eichmann article generates a firestorm of controversy. Truthfully, it’s almost alien to see such a marriage of mutual admiration onscreen like this, making domestic scenes pop with a richness of emotion the rest of the effort avoids.

To fill out her vision of contemplation, the director has skillfully woven actual footage from the Eichmann trial into the film, giving “Hannah Arendt” a touch of authenticity as the viewer observes the overwhelming passions that consumed the participants. It’s historical motivation that carries significant cinematic weight, watching Hannah study Eichmann’s delusions, trying to dissect his defense as a way to reverse engineer evil itself. A subplot with Hannah’s first love, a man who inspired her heart and intellect, is less impactful, with a few scenes spread around a script that would rather capture Hannah’s brilliance than her identity.

“Hannah Arendt” isn’t always the most riveting picture around, occasionally losing focus to repetitive exchanges of ideals and fears for the writer’s safety. However, with Sukowa at the helm, the film is seldom flat, delivering magnificent work as Hannah, capturing subtle reactions and a torrent of introspection with economical, meaningful acting. She’s fascinating to watch and keeps the production on track when loses concentration on vital dramatic elements. While “Hannah Arendt” is commendable work, Sukowa makes it a necessary sit, watching the actress slip into the skin of a thrillingly sophisticated woman, flawlessly communicating every single beat of her intellectual firepower.

Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Janet McTeer, Axel Milberg, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Nicholas Woodeson
Director: Margarethe von Trotta

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