at the Jewish Film Festival and now at Opera Plaza in San Francisco
A week or so ago at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco I saw Margarete von Trotta’s latest film HANNAH ARENDT, highly anticipated not just by me but by a sold-out Castro crowd. Ever since it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September we have been waiting for von Trotta’s take of the outstanding Jewish philosopher/thinker/political scientist who escaped Nazi Germany and then France to settle down in New York where in 1961 she shook up the Jewish intellectual community with her reports on the Eichmann trial. Von Trotta’s film focuses on this year or two of her life – not on her relationship with writer Mary McCarthy as suggested by an article in the New Yorker from May 2013. This is not a film about Arendt’s philosophies, her way of dissecting the world, but about a few action packed months of the philosopher’s life that were full of controversy, tension and accusations.
Her reports for the New Yorker portrayed Eichmann not as the devil, the incorporation of all evil, but of the “banality of Evil”, an ordinary guy who followed orders and did not think about the consequences. The Jewish intellectual community of New York and beyond condemned her analysis as a defense of Eichmann, lacking any feelings and emotions for her own Jewish people. Did the term “banality of Evil” spring from a cold, albeit brilliant intellect that had dissected the trial without being able to feel any compassion? Formidable Barbara Sukowa (seen here most recently in VISION, another collaboration with von Trotta, shown at German Gems 2010) gives a strong, nuanced (chain-smoking) performance as Arendt who, confronted with harsh criticism also from close friends, does not give in. She can handle hate mail, yes. She can escape to the country, has friends and famous lovers, like Mary McCarthy, (Heidegger included in flash-backs), she has a loving, open-minded husband and many devoted students. I agree with those who say that this strong, highbrow woman might have found in von Trotta’s film some of the mediocrity she detected in Eichmann (and failed to see in McCarthy’s writing). Still, it is very worth watching the film and reengaging in the discussion about Eichmann in Jerusalem.
After 50 years the audience at the Castro seemed to be just as divided as the readership of the New Yorker in 1962. When Arendt /Sukowa defended her position in front of her students with a brilliant speech half of the Castro applauded, the other half applauded her Jewish friend Hans Jonas who criticized Arendt as a defendant of Eichmann
The Castro felt very alive, as if the actors had stepped out of the screen onto the stage of the theatre, like Barbara Sukowa did a few years ago as guest of Berlin & Beyond and star of the film THE INVENTION OF CURRIED SAUSAGE / Die Erfindung der Currywurst.
Here a review from the NYReview of Books 11/21/13. An insightful take on this film, different from all the reviews I read. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/21/arendt-eichmann-new-truth/