Hannah Arendt (Margarethe von Trotta, 2012): Germany/Luxembourg/France

Reviewed by Kimberly Howard.  Viewed at The Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, 2013

German director, Margarethe Von Trotta creates a remarkably precise and deliberate account of the life of the renowned philosopher, Johanna Arendt,who coined the phrase, “Banality of Evil.” This was her take on her report of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for the operations of transporting the Jewish people to the concentration camps. The title itself, Hannah Arendt, suggests by the shortening of her first name, that although there are many qualities possessed by the strong minded philosopher, the drama created from a single idea and the willpower she held not to waiver against such opposition is sufficient enough to spark an interest and appreciation for her from any viewer.

The film begins in Arendt’s NYC home in the 1950’s where she lives with her loving husband, Heinrich (Axel Milberg) who serves as a model of affection and support to his wife throughout her ordeal. Balancing a mostly intellectual content with personal renditions which show the closeness she and her husband share, the film delivers an easy way to view it without becoming derailed from full concentration on trying to figure out the subject. This is just one of the magical forms of film which carries the viewer through the world of the story, and ensures they don’t become lost. One scene shows the care between Hannah and her husband is mutual since her husband falls ill during her writing on the
accounts of the Eichmann trial and Hannah aides in his recovery. (focusing on the more compassionate side to her multi-faceted, mysterious nature.)

Her strong will is noted in the beginning as well, with her relationship to her assistant. She possesses an intellectual strength and a poised command, but is very endearing towards her devoted assistant. The color of the home is a shroud of an earthy blue tone which resonates a feeling of mystery or perhaps implying a veil to the complete thoughts of Hannah. This, in turn, offers an explanation to her reasoning for not having to explain her way through or convince those who were opposed to her thought of the evil intent of man.

It is at this point in the movie, where the above is met with the tension building drama that comes from her attending the Eichmann trial. With actual footage from the trial weaved into this portion of the movie, a single phrase from Eichmann saying something to the effect of he didn’t think about what he was doing, he was just obeying orders sparks Hannah to develop and coin the phrase “the banality of evil.” (How ordinary men are capable of doing evil without the necessary requirement of them being monsters.)

Once a former captive along with her husband in French detention camps, Hannah adds something else to her world of thought which the NY TIMES publishes in five articles. Hannah reported how the trial showed Jews were involved with the Germans in sending their own people to the concentration camps.

Slews of hate mail and opposition arise in Hannah’s world, but her very nature as a philosopher enables her to stand tall and hold fast to her conviction of what the truth is. Hannah’s character in this movie does a poignant job in embodying every facet of the real life political philosopher which causes the audience to be for her and not against her.

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