Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Margarethe von Trotta's biopic "Hannah Arendt" stars veteran German actress Barbara Sukowa as the philosopher and political scientist who in 1961 travelled to Jerusalem to cover for The New Yorker the war crimes trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Sukowa gives a terrific performance, taking us into Arendt's brilliant life of the mind. As we watch her study Eichmann - von Trotta mixes actual trial footage into her film - we see the wheels turning. She can't get over the contrast between the grandeur of his atrocities and the mediocrity of the man himself. (It was in these articles that Arendt coined the term "the banality of evil" to describe the crimes committed by "nobodies" bureaucratically following orders.)
I also enjoyed the film's portrayal of Arendt's marriage to Heinrich Blücher (Alex Milberg), flawed and disputatious yet loving and abiding. But much of the dialogue is stilted (including - predictably - Janet McTeer's as American novelist Mary McCarthy), like an academic trying to talk to regular folks. And von Trotta does a poor job of explaining Arendt's criticisms of certain Jewish leaders, which generated at least as much controversy as her (insufficiently vituperative for some) depiction of Eichmann.