Hannah Arendt Brought to Life by a Mesmerizing Barbara Sukowa


Pouncing on the chance to cover the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, resulting in her controversial pronouncement about the disparity between “the mediocrity of the man” and “the horror of the deeds,” the writer-philosopher Hannah Arendt is brought to life by a mesmerizing Barbara Sukowa in Margarethe von Trotta’s film. Despite all its scenes of ideas thrashed out at cocktail parties and in the office of New Yorker editor William Shawn (a droll Nicolas Woodeson), and barnburner lectures at the New School, where Arendt taught, Hannah Arendt mostly forestalls any complaints of talkiness, and it avoids the static portrayal of writers at work. (There is still too much smoking-while-thinking.) Squaring your own past with reporting duties is a theme—Arendt, a Jew, was a detention-camp survivor—and ur-woman’s director von Trotta, in a 30-year creative partnership with Sukowa, adds smart, grown-up girl talk about men, marriage, and careers with Arendt’s loyal friend Mary McCarthy (a zingy Janet McTeer). Good, because Arendt meets painful opposition from other lifelong colleagues when she declares Eichmann merely obedient, incapable of envisioning the next horrendous step in his bureaucratic duties constructing the Holocaust. Historical footage of the twitchy Eichmann in his protective glass cage echoes the film’s dark re-enactment of his kidnapping from Argentina, mirrored later as Israeli secret forces track down Arendt on an early morning walk, trying to strong-arm her into suppressing Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. It’s the one time the courageous Arendt, here more quicksilver than arrogant (as she is reported to have occasionally been), looks scared.