Tag Archives: barbara sukowa

Super Human Condition; ‘Hannah Arendt’ (2013).

13 Oct

Hannah Arendt posterAlthough philosophy is undoubtedly one of the fundamental cornerstones of academia (read: human existence), and has been since our ancestors first became self-aware, movies about philosophers rarely get made. As this writer is both a film critic and a philosophy student, he finds this phenomenon somewhat irksome. Thankfully, along struts Hannah Arendt, chain-smoking and dressed in a grey-brown dress, shattering all expectations by delivering perhaps the most engrossing, thought-provoking film about a thinker to date.

Directed by Margarethe von Trotta (Rosenstrasse, The Last Honour of Katharina Blum), Hannah Arendt stars Barbara Sukowa as the eponymous philosopher, who fled a fledgling Nazi Germany in the ’30s in order to pursue an academic career. She ended up in the USA, where she decided to cover the infamous 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, an ex-Nazi, for the legendary New Yorker magazine. Her resulting article expresses her shock at how ‘normal’ Eichmann appears, while also making controversial statements about the role of Jewish leaders in the Holocaust. The movie examines this, along with the resulting plethora of vitriol she receives.

Biopics about philosophers rarely emerge because while they may have made extraordinary claims, their literature is often so dense and ideas so complex that it’s difficult to strike gold on-screen. Thankfully, Hannah Arendt decides to focus almost entirely on the Eichmann trial and its consequential fallout. I say “thankfully”, because a film centred around her actual philosophy would be a tough sit. However, von Trotta does apply the gist of Arendt’s high-concept thoughts on totalitarianism and evil to what would otherwise be a fairly standard drama; this other-worldly, almost ethereal element gives the film a real artistic heft that’s rarely seen at the cinema these days.

Barbara Sukowa dominates the screen, proving herself to be an impressive, wonderfully convincing character actor. If this movie has an Achilles’ Heel, it lies in the supporting cast. While they are, for the most part, charming – Axel Milberg stands out as Arendt’s philosopher husband Heinrich Blücher, and Ulrich Noethen as Hans Jonas is likewise endearing as Arendt’s philosopher friend – both Arendt’s wisecracking novelist friend Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer) and the New Yorker’s staff occasionally feel stiff and clunky. Their attempts to inject some comedy into the mix are flawed, unnecessary, and ultimately undermine the serious ideas the film explores.

Minor complaints aside, Hannah Arendt remains a touching and surprisingly moving picture that blends themes of misunderstanding and communication breakdown with the emergence of a fascinating political philosophy. It’s a worthy telling of a little-known story about one of the few thinkers to truly grasp the banality of evil. A must-see for philosophy students, and a should-see for everybody else.

Simon says: the best philosopher movie yet.

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