Rough Translation 2

Hannah Arendt, 2012

Margaretha von Trotta (dir)

With Barbara Sukowa as Hannah


 ArendtThe same week the RWB was examining totalitarianism in the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s  The Handmaid’s Tale, Cinematheque was screening Hannah Arendt, a biopic of the 20th century philosopher and political scientist who studied with Heidegger, Husserl, and Jaspers and gave us the phrase “the banality of evil.”


She escaped Gurs, a detainment camp in France ,  arriving in New  York in 1941. She worked on what would eventually be published as The Origins of Totalitarianism, and wrote regularly for The New Yorker. In 1961 she went to Jerusalem and covered the trial of Adolf Eichman, winning the admiration of some and outright hate from others over her articles published in the New Yorker and the book Eichman in Jerusalem.  The nature of evil continued to be a central focus of her ongoing work until she died in 1975.


Lots of rich material, and enough conflict for a narrative arc in most any medium. A great director gives it her best shot, but the film stumbles under its own weight.  Determined to be significant, and to do justice to Arendt’s ideas, there a few too many moments when it feels we are watching a lecture, with enough repetition to bring along the slowest learner.  


The writing then, I would think is the film’s biggest weakness. Even if a rough translation, this is a fascinating character study, with an absolutely outstanding performance by Barbara Sukowa. The film was very well cast, and all performers turning in top-notch performances.

The film was shot mostly in German with English subtitles, and English where it would naturally occur in dialogue. I understand German, and enjoy being reminded I used to know this language, happy to follow without having to check the subtitles too often.  Hannah Arendt will play well on the small screen, and hopefully it will be available on Netflix before too long.

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