‘Hannah Arendt’ often reduces complexity to banality

Barbara Sukowa (left, next to Janet McTeer) plays the political theorist in "Hannah Arendt." Credit: Véronique Kolber
Barbara Sukowa (left, next to Janet McTeer) plays the political theorist in “Hannah Arendt.”
Credit: Véronique Kolber

‘Hannah Arendt’
Director: Margarethe Von Trotta
Stars: Barbara Sukowa, Janet McTeer
Rating: NR
2 (out of 5) Globes

Among the fickle populace, political theorist Hannah Arendt’s lasting legacy is her coining of the phrase “the banality of evil,” a term she dreamt up in a controversial piece she wrote about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann. Arendt, still riding high on her philosophical blockbuster “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” had been sent by The New Yorker to cover the event in Israel, which found the Nazi higher-up finally being tried for his crimes. She was critical of the prosecution’s showboaty tactics, but was even more struck by Eichmann himself. Rather than one of the 20th century’s craftiest monsters, he was, in her view, little more than a “bureaucrat” simply doing a job — a man of bewildering mediocrity.

The brouhaha that followed, with Arendt being called a self-hating Jew and losing close, outraged friends, is the subject of “Hannah Arendt,” a docudrama starring Barbara Sukowa and directed by New German Cinema filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. It’s a subject that requires a great deftness. Arendt’s summation of the events are, to say the least, quite contestable, particularly her charge that Eichmann wasn’t motivated by anti-Semitism. The safest thing one could say is that her argument was more complex than many (but not all) of her critics claimed.

At times, “Hannah Arendt” honors that complexity. Much of the time, however, it reduces it, ironically, to a simplistic tussle between nice, thoughtful Arendt and her mean, snooty detractors. She is shown anguishing over her New Yorker piece, poring over trial tapes and transcripts, missing deadlines and smoking a lot while staring pensively out of windows. Her critics make derisive quips at parties, while a friend literally turns his back on her. It reduces Arendt to a mere victim, a poor woman who was just asking questions.

As with her last film with Sukowa, the Hildegard von Bingen biopic “Vision,” “Hannah Arendt” is a reductive, indifferently filmed look at a proto-feminist. It, too, benefits greatly from its star’s nuanced work. Arendt may be portrayed as a martyr, but Sukowa plays her as a full person: She’s a restless thinker — she was Heidegger’s favorite pupil — but she can also be arrogant, stubborn and insecure. It’s a rich performance in a film that’s often flat, visually and intellectually, that, unlike other von Trottas, can sporadically also loosen up. In the margins is a loose portrait of a happy, carefree marriage between Arendt and her sickly husband (Axel Milberg), scenes of which stress the human it repeatedly tries to reduce to a sacrificial lamb.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

FDNY debuts new fire simulator for blazes at…

The New York City Fire Department christened its newest, state-of-the-art, custom-built simulator at its training academy on Randall's Island Tuesday.

Local

Bronx cop saves baby who stopped breathing

A Bronx police officer is credited with saving the life of a 2-month-old baby who stopped breathing Tuesday morning. Police Officer Johnny Castillo, 38, was…

Local

Brewer celebrates Women's Equality Day with voter pledge

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer celebrated Women’s Equality Day Tuesday by pledging to register at least five women voters before the Oct. 10 deadline. Brewer…

Local

NYPD looking for lewd D train rider

The NYPD is enlisting the public’s help to find a man they say performed a lewd act on the D train Saturday evening. The incident…

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 12,…

If you've wondered whether Ali and Bethany knew each other, you got an answer tonight: Yes, and in a very tangled way. But many lingering…

Entertainment

Cymbals Eat Guitars Have Everything to 'LOSE'

At its most basic level, a rock band can be thought of as a family, a group of people selflessly devoted to a cause. When…

Entertainment

"Bachelor in Paradise" recap: Episode 4, 'Week Four'

Some things are hard to watch in a “Human Centipede” sort of way. Other things in an “American History X” sort of way. Does “Bachelor…

Movies

Fall Movie Preview: 10 films to see this…

Despite being awards season, the next four months bring a glut of remakes, rehashes and sequels. Here are 10 that should be better worth your time.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

NFL

Dimitri Patterson suspended only for rest of preseason…

Dimitri Patterson ended up getting just a slap on the wrist.

Sports

Eugenie Bouchard excited for 'rowdy' fans at US…

Eugenie Bouchard is sure to endear herself to New York's tennis faithful as she tries to win her first grand slam title across the next two weeks.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Angels and A's still at…

MLB Power Rankings: Angels and A's still at top, Nationals climb

Wellbeing

Who is having the most orgasms?

  Single lesbians report having orgasms more often than heterosexual women but both gay and straight men still come out on top of the climax…

Home

Jonathan Adler shares his tips for a great…

Jonathan Adler took a break from boogie boarding at his beach house to tell us how to keep that Labor Day party festive.

Travel

Most popular Labor Day weekend destinations

Priceline.com released its Top 20 destinations for the end of summer, including Labor Day weekend. If you’re heading to any of these spots, expect a…

Wellbeing

Working your way to type 2 diabetes: Job…

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, a stressful job can be as risky for your health as a bad diet and no exercise. A…