Margarethe von Trotta’s latest film – Hannah Arendt – continues the tradition of the portrayal of strong women characters in her work.
Along with Rosa Luxemburg (Rosa Luxemburg, 1986), the Ensslin sisters (Marianne and Juliane, 1981) and Hildegard von Bingen (Vision, 2009), the Jewish-born German-American writer and political theorist of the late 20th century Hannah Arendt becomes yet another subject of Trotta’s detailed scrutiny. The film portrays a period of four years of Arendt’s life where she observes and reports on the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem while contemplating the ‘banality of evil’.
However, the film doesn’t pick up its portrayal from a significant lecture or speech in order to force its protagonist’s strong personality upon the audience. Instead, it opens in Arendt’s New York apartment while she is chatting with friend Mary McCarthy (the writer of the 1963 book The Group is portrayed by Janet McTeer – The White Queen, Albert Nobbs, Sense and Sensibility). As the conversation between the two flows, it is revealed that Hannah is to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for The New Yorker. The plot follows her journey to Jerusalem and recreates Eichmann’s trial, using some original black and white footage intercut with Barbara Sukowa sitting in the pressroom smoking, very much like the real Hannah Arendt did. After she returns from Israel, the rest of the film reveals her struggle with the public opinion on the articles she writes about Eichmann and the repercussions this has on her relationships with her friends and family.
…Margarethe von Trotta’s film depicts Arendt not only as a writer and thinker but also as a wife and friend…
Despite the prevalent opinion of Arendt’s cold and arrogant personality, Margarethe von Trotta’s film depicts Arendt not only as a writer and thinker but also as a wife and friend, and a member of a group of an international intellectual elite, participating in evening gatherings and heated discussions. This immediately links to Arendt’s own attempt to ‘understand’ everything in life. The film is trying to understand this legendary woman who has escaped the horrors of the Second World War and has made a new life for herself and her husband Heinrich Blucher in America (Axel Milberg). Although it encompasses only those four years, the film alludes to a number of different events and periods of Arendt’s life, including her friendships with Hans Jonas and Mary MacCarthy and her work as a lecturer. In addition, through several short flashbacks the film outlines her past relationship with philosopher and her teacher Martin Heidegger and his influence on her. The dialogue further relates to Arendt’s past life in Germany and France and her escape to America along with Blucher.
The portrayal of Hannah Arendt herself contributes to the idea of her the film presents. Barbara Sukowa, who has worked with the director before on films like Rosa Luxemburg (1986), L’africana (1990) and Vision (2009), successfully renders the complexity of this woman to the audience. She is both the stern and structured thinker but in the same time she reveals her more personal side through her interactions with her husband and her friends.
…contribution to political theory and philosophy…
Finally, this is a persuasive look at Hannah Arendt’s insight and contribution to political theory and philosophy and in the same time shows her more personal side. The film completes its portrayal by including the backlash to her articles on Eichmann’s trial and the impact it has on her life and relationships with the people she loves.