A Goethe Institut 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Margarethe von Trotta, student screening), 8 April 2015
The book to the film:
Hannah Arendt. Ihr Denken veränderte die Welt. Das Buch zum Film von Margarethe von Trotta. Hrsg. Martin Wiebel. München, Zürich: Piper, 2013, 252 pages.
Texts by Franziska Augstein, Martin Wiebel, Margarethe von Trotta, Pam Katz, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Ernst Vollrath, Bettina Brokemper, Hannah Arendt interviewed by Joachim Fest, Barbara Sukowa, Klaus Pohl, Volker Schaefer, Jerome Kohn, Rainer Schimpf, and Bettina Stangneth. Excerpts from the screenplay.
I watched Hannah Arendt at our morning student screening before Margarethe von Trotta's afternoon lecture and Q&A on Rosa Luxemburg, Hildegard von Bingen, and Hannah Arendt. In the evening there was a regular screening of Hannah Arendt and a subsequent Q&A.
The film was an even better opening to our Margarethe von Trotta retrospective than we had realized, representative of so many of her key concerns and characteristics.
A major continuity in her oeuvre has been an honest confrontation with the German history of the past century. To this quest Hannah Arendt brings a new contribution of an aching and disturbing complexity.
Intellectual biography is popular in today's cinema, as in the high profile Academy Award nominated films on Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing. They are commendable attempts to present difficult ideas to a general audience. Hannah Arendt is also a thrilling film, with the difference that the determination to focus on the ideas of the protagonist is on a completely different level than in the Hawking and Turing biopics. Hannah Arendt is a drama of standing up to one's convictions. It is a film that not only popularizes but also contributes on a profound level to the discussion of Arendt's still alarming insights in the Eichmann trial.
Margarethe von Trotta prefers a protagonist who is woman of courage, controversial, even a rebel.
There are several important relationships in the film: Hannah and Heinrich (husband), Hannah and Lotte Köhler (assistant), Hannah and Hans Jonas (a long-term friendship broken after the Eichmann articles), Hannah and Kurt Blumenfeld (in Israel), and Hannah and William Shawn (The New Yorker). But the deepest relationship, the true core, is that of Hannah and Mary McCarthy.
A focus on a female bond - sisterhood, friendship - is a characteristic for von Trotta. (She has even filmed Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters as Amore e paura with Fanny Ardant, Greta Scacchi, and Valeria Golino). The most memorable performances here are those by Barbara Sukowa and Janet McTeer. There is a sense of urgency in them.
A further von Trotta hallmark is a formidable presence of an architecture of power. Here the most relevant architecture of power (Auschwitz) remains invisible. Major settings are the Jerusalem courthouse of Eichmann's trial and the university lecture hall of the final voluntary "trial" of Hannah Arendt herself as she gives her remarkable defense speech against her critics.
Forceful and characteristic is here also von Trotta's mise-en-scène and composition. I had happened to visit a Vilhelm Hammershøi exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum and felt an affinity between certain von Trotta images and Hammershøi's compelling compositions of dark clad women with their backs turned to us.
Von Trotta has talent with the documentary insert. In Die bleierne Zeit the two sisters as schoolgirls get to see Night and Fog. Here the documentary inserts are the televised records of the Adolf Eichmann trials. Von Trotta's major casting decision was that all other characters are conveyed by actors but Adolf Eichmann is seen in actual documented footage only.
Margarethe von Trotta was in great form in her lecture and the Q&A sessions. There was not enough time for all the questions. One remark I wanted to make but had no time to is: In your films women are strong and men not so strong. This is not a piece of criticism. There is more than a fair share of strong roles for men in the cinema, even entire genres are male-dominated. You have made an engrossing contribution to correct the balance.
On Adolf Eichmann there is an excellent documentary film by Erwin Leiser which would deserve to be better known: Eichmann und das dritte Reich.
OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON A. O. SCOTT'S REVIEW BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK