Hannah Arendt (12A)

Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Writers: Pam Katz (screenplay), Margarethe von Trotta (screenplay)
Starring Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer
FACT, Liverpool
27th September - 3rd October 2013

Reviewed by Darren Guy

This is a film about the German philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt (played by Barbara Sukowa), who was probably more famous for both her relationship with the famous German philosopher Martin Heidegger and coining the phrase 'the banality of evil'. She, of course , was notable in her own right. The film might sound boring, and I wasn't overkeen in expectation of it. However it was one of the best films I've seen this year.

It is the early 196Os and Arendt is now middle-aged, living and working as a philosophy lecturer in New York. She is surrounded by close and long -term friends, primarily German friends, who had grown together over the years. They loved dinner parties and political and philosophical arguments. She is deeply in love with her husband Axel Milberg (Heinrich Blücher) and is blissfully happy, until she reads of the arrest by Mossad (Israeli secret service) and the impending trail of the notorious Nazi, Adolf Eichmann. Arendt applies to go to Israel to cover the trial for the New Yorker magazine, despite her husband's objections. Arendt, a jew herself, was once imprisoned by the Nazis but escaped.

She travelled to Isreal to visit an old friend, Kurt Blumenfeld (played excellently by Michael Degen). We see footage of the original trail of Eichmann, and Arendt comes to the conclusion that Eichmann was not how the world portrayed him, as an evil devil-like figure, but a 'mediocre man', who insists he did not kill anybody - he was only carrying out his administrative duties. Arendt concludes that not only is the trial a facade, in its attempts to convict an individual for the crimes of a system, but that obedience to bureaucracy is in fact mainly responsible for the crimes.This is when she coined the phrase 'The banality of evil'.

A series of articles were due to be published in the New Yorker, followed by a book, However, after the first article appeared, all hell broke loose. Arendt and her publishers are immediately hit by a barrage of objections and hate letters towards her. Not only does she raise the issue of Eichmann's 'mediocrity' but she also points to the fact that some prominent jewish leaders also played their role in collaborating with the Nazi system, by sending poor jews to their death. Arendt, herself a former Zionist, is hounded to the point were she herself is visited by Mossad and encouraged to pull her article or else.

Hannah Arendt is an excellent film. The acting is superb from all of the main characters, notably Barbara Kowalski and Michael Began. The story, dialogue and drama are compelling. And the willingness of the writer, director and film-maker to deal with such politically sensitive topics should be applauded.

It was good to revisit a theme so often simplified, as a fight between good and evil. I learned a thing or two along the way too. 1) Very few holocaust survivors actually emigrated to Israel. 2) The Vatican, through the Red Cross, were paramount in supplying Eichmann with a passport to flee to Argentina, in an attempt to escape his crimes. At the time they were offering asylum to leading Nazi war criminals, Eichmann was a catholic.

Go and see it while you have the chance.

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