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Hannah Arendt - Film Review

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by Helen Belli (subscribe)
I am now living in Kariong on the Central Coast
Published March 22nd 2014


'I'm not going to explain myself to those nitwits'

This might be a reason why Hanna was referred to as arrogant. In 1961 she attended the trial in Jerusalem for war crimes committed by Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker magazine.

The film focuses on this part of her life. She has a 'wow' moment during the trial. Eichmann's defence was he had taken an oath of allegiance to the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and was only following orders. Aurendt concluded that he was an ordinary man doing his job and coined the phrase 'the banality of evil'. He wasn't evil, just a man following orders without any thought.

She was born in 1906 in Germany, was deported to France and later escaped from an enemy alien camp and fled to New York in 1933 which she described as 'paradise', away from a totalitarian state to a democracy.

In her book she not only outlined her theory, but criticise the way some Jewish leaders showed a lack of sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. This caused an uproar and her friends and her fellow Jewish community denounced her. She was asked to leave the University where she was teaching and refused, instead arguing her case to her students, who we assume weren't 'nitwits' and received a standing ovation. Perhaps a younger generation viewed her theory differently to her piers.

Adolf Eichmann graduated from a travelling salesman to a member of the SS. He was in charge of the deportation of Jews, firstly to concentration camps which became later became extermination camps, where 6 million Jews were murdered. After the war he managed to flee to Argentina. He was captured and escorted to Jerusalem for the trial. Arendt calls him the embodiment of evil, an ordinary man who displayed no guilt or hatred. He said he only worked in an operational capacity and didn't make policy.

The writer and director of the film is Margaret von Trotta who is one of the leading German directors with 30 years standing. She has a strong feminist purpose and has worked with Arendt many times. The film is sober and slow moving and leaves a lot to ponder. Flashbacks are used to reveal her life and loves. She spends a lot time smoking lying on a chaise thinking about her many philosophical articles and books. She was an intellectual and thinker and her theory of obedience has been tested over many years.

Barbara Sukowa portrays a loving wife and friend but also a cool, radical thinker, brave in her convictions and unratteled by her critics. Lots to ponder as von Trotta aims to educate. 1961 was perhaps too soon to sprout such a controversial theory as 'the banality of evil'. This film will delight the philosophers of the audience but a hard sell to to many. She provoked, a refreshing change.
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When: Out now
Where: DVD
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