out of Five
Running time: 113
An involving and important drama which provides excellent insight into the life of political theorist Hannah Arendt during the time she reported on the Adolf Eichmann trial, only sadly marred by some bad acting and poor dialogue.
What’s it all about?
We meet Hannah Arendt, proud German-American of Jewish descent and controversial political thinker, as she’s about to embark on an assignment for The New Yorker in 1961. Her life in New York with her husband, the challenges she faced in her career thanks to her controversial report on the Adolf Eichmann trial and her time spent with philosopher Martin Heidegger with whom she also had a love affair, are all explored in detail.
Director Margarethe Von Trotta takes an interesting approach to this biography by focusing on one event, the Eichmann trial, and shedding the usual linear narrative. This allows more of the film to be spent examining this important historical moment and Arendt’s personality and ethics.
An understanding of the political thinking of the time is achieved by concentrating on Arendt’s life in New York and the fierce debate between the circles of academics she knew. Largely set in the interiors of apartments, offices and classrooms where the audience observes discussions, every part of this film aims to educate and it achieves that. Barbara Sukowa is marvellous as the chain-smoking Arendt with her final monologue making for compelling viewing. This combined with the real footage from the Eichmann trial, as Hannah reports from Israel, is overwhelmingly powerful. Eichmann’s display of bureaucratic indifference twinned with testimony from Holocaust survivors is both highly affecting and difficult to watch.
In the first half of the film there is a tendency to use dialogue as an opportunity to unsubtly spout out huge amounts of information about Hannah Arendt in order to inform the viewer. This unfortunately makes for odd, stilted and not very natural scenes which stand out in comparison to some of the more powerful moments. Perhaps a necessary evil within the boundaries of biopics but nevertheless it may put you off.
The supporting cast is littered with bad actors and poor dialogue and Janet McTeer as Hannah’s best friend Mary McCarthy gets some zingers that jar extremely badly with such serious subject matter.
Hannah Arendt is an accessible and interesting portrait of both the woman and the time she lived through which will have you searching for her controversial reportage as soon as you leave the cinema.
Hannah Arendt (12A)