“Hannah Arendt” looks through a narrow window at the early 1960’s, when the German-born Jewish philosophy professor drew controversial conclusions in her 1963 New Yorker coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Arendt concluded that Eichmann, the runaway former Nazi official whom the Israelis kidnapped in Argentina in 1960, represented the “banality of evil,” the bureaucratic willingness to follow the most evil of orders. She also pointed out that Jewish leaders helped organize deportation of Jews for the Nazis. In Margarethe von Trotta’s period drama, filmed in the grey tones of the time, we see Arendt defending herself, which she did against critics in the press, in her university, and in Israel (which sent officials to the US to demand that she not publish a book based on her New Yorker articles).
Barbara Sukowa (looking a bit more like Ayn Rand than Arendt) plays a tough Hannah, who stands her ground in this oversimplification of a far more dramatic life, with a screenplay by Pamela Katz and von Trotta. Amid the cigarette smoke and the debates in Upper West Side apartments, Arendt emerges as a woman with a sense of humor and a love life. Arendt’s youthful affair with philosopher Martin Heidegger, who later supported the Nazis, gets short schrift. The film is a start, but the tip of the iceberg. Janet McTeer is fun as Arendt’s friend and confidante, the writer Mary McCarthy. The Toronto screening was packed with television buyers, an indication of the interest out there. Criticwire grade: B