Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt
Showing on big screens this month in Sydney and Melbourne at the Jewish International Film Festival is Hannah Arendt, Margarethe von Trotta’s film about one of the 20th century’s foremost thinkers on the nature of totalitarianism, evil and the Holocaust.
The film is set mainly in 1961, when the New York-based Arendt covered the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem (though flashbacks also take us back to the pre-war years and her association with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, later to become a Nazi).
Her lengthy report on the trial for the New Yorker, the basis of the book Eichmann in Jerusalem, caused a storm of controversy for her allegations against Jewish leaders for co-operation with the Nazis, but also led to the phrase and concept for which she is best known today, “the banality of evil”.
Barbara Sukowa’s powerhouse of a lead performance is the film’s strongest suit - understandably it won her the best female actor prize at both the Lolas and the Bavarian Film Awards (the film was also named runner-up at the Lolas for best film). At heart, however, this is an old-fashioned film that raises questions over how best to portray the thoughts and processes of writers and thinkers, not necessarily the most obviously cinematic of subjects.
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