‘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

Brooklyn girl's death ruled a homicide

The New York City Medical Examiner has ruled the death of a Brooklyn toddler a homicide. Jeida Torres, 3, was found bruised and unresponsive Saturday…

Local

New York City continues to prepare for Ebola…

New York City continues to prepare for the possibility of Ebola. There have been numerous scares, but no confirmed cases. Representatives from about 150 unions…

Local

NYPD nabs alleged serial bank robber

  The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for multiple Manhattan bank robberies this month. Police have arrested a Brooklyn man they…

National

A look into the minds of Tsarnaev's fan…

While thousands of supporters insist their loyalty is due to a steadfast belief that Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev's is innocent, others, mainly young women, come dangerously close to an unhealthy infatuation…

Entertainment

We the Economy: Morgan Spurlock's new crusade

If Morgan Spurlock gets his way, you won't be able to avoid We the Economy, the series of 20 shorts films curated by the "Super…

Arts

3 Parody plays lampoon your childhood, adulthood and…

Whether you loved the source material or you're going in blind, these parody plays have something for every audience member. We rate three of NYC's hottest satirical shows.

Gossip

Who has more power: Harry Styles or Amal…

Amal Clooney comes in fourth on The Evening Standard's Most Influential Londoners list.

Music

#AskPaul McCartney reveals his love of American pop…

For an Englishman, Paul McCartney's pop culture tastes would fit right in stateside. The former Beatle (@PaulMcCartney) revealed that he has a real thing for…

NFL

Breno Giacomini: Media blowing up Golden Tate-Percy Harvin…

According to Breno Giacomini, the fight between Golden Tate and Percy Harvin during Super Bowl week was over by the time the lineman turned around.

College

College football AP Top 25 rankings: Mississippi State…

College football AP Top 25 rankings: Mississippi State holds off FSU

NHL

NHL Power Rankings: Sharks, Canadiens, Blackhawks out in…

NHL Power Rankings: Sharks, Canadiens, Blackhawks out in front

NFL

DeMarco Murray carries Cowboys to win over Giants

The Giants knew they would need to stop DeMarco Murray if they were going to leave Dallas with a win. It didn't matter.

Education

Is a 'gap year' after high school for…

It’s a familiar script that millions of students follow each year: Graduate high school and then immediately start college. But more and more students are…

Parenting

New news about Kate Middleton's pregnancy

The Palace released a statement about Kate Middleton's pregnancy.

Parenting

Cool book for kids: 'The Princess In Black'

"The Princess In Black" will change the way girls view princesses.

Wellbeing

Gabby Bernstein: The 3 questions I always get

For the last decade, I’ve been writing self-help books and preaching the Gospel of Gabby to audiences throughout the world. And no matter what country…