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Movie review: ‘Hannah Arendt’

Posted 8:51pm on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013

Unrated (mature themes); 113 min.

Hannah Arendt is hagiography of the most egregious kind. It makes Lincoln look like a smear job. It focuses on the early 1960s, when the German-born philosopher left her New York home to observe the Jerusalem trial of the Nazi’s Jewish-deportation chief, Adolf Eichmann, and wrote it up for The New Yorker.

Director Margarethe von Trotta (co-writer with Pamela Katz) depicts Arendt as the era’s lone seeker after moral truth. In this film’s view, Israelis are too concerned with getting out the facts about the Holocaust to judge the merits of this individual case.

Other Europeans, Americans and émigrés are either not advanced enough in their post-Holocaust thinking — or too protective of the Jewish community — to buy either her sweeping analysis of Eichmann as a mediocre bureaucrat, not an anti-Semitic monster, or her carefully nuanced suggestion that Jewish community leaders in some ways colluded with Eichmann in the deportation of Jews to the death camps.

Her thesis of the “banality of evil” has become a useful focus of research and debate. But many scholars question Eichmann as an example of “banality.” They note that in his trial testimony he crowed about how thoroughly and cleverly he had executed the Final Solution.

In Hannah Arendt, not all New York intellectuals are too myopic to appreciate her brilliance. She has an understanding Marxist-philosopher husband, Heinrich Blucher, and a scintillating, acerbic novelist friend, Mary McCarthy.

Even if von Trotta were able to prove Arendt’s concepts in this bowed-head biopic, her woman-against-the-world dramaturgy would still be appalling. The “good-guy” performances border on caricature, whether it’s Janet McTeer’s tough-broad interpretation of McCarthy or Axel Milberg’s cozy, uxorious Blucher.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Michael Sragow, Orange County Register

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