Monday, June 10, 2013

Short Independent Film Review: Hannah Arendt (2013 American Release); Review by Payman Akhlaghi of the 2012 Film by by Margarethe von Trotta

Hannah Arendt (2012; 2013, American Release)
(113 mins; in English, German and Hebrew; Subtitled)
Directed by: Margarethe von Trotta
Music by: André Mergenthaler
Cast: Barbara Sukowa et al.
Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi (draft 2)

This review was first published on June 10th, 2013, at .

To begin with, if you have any interest in the protagonist, or more generally, in cinema with philosophic content, or just a wonderful performance, do not miss this film while it's on the screen.

What this film lacks in the visual skills -- the cinematography and lighting are too flat and rudimentary -- it makes up in content and performance. Some of the most touching moments take place exactly when the genius of the character comes across, not only in words, but in the masterful articulation by the lead actress, Babrara Sukowa. Whether subdued, as in her first observations during Eichmann's trial, or fierce, as in when she publicly defends her conclusions, here's an actress who embodies a role many must have wished to play. Indeed, this could very well be the first well-earned Oscar nomination of the year.

The writing is intelligent and convincing. The plot is organized around the central point of her career, the trial of Eichmann in Israel, the writing of the famous book, and the consequences of its publications. Arendt's past, and future, are hinted at or presented briefly in flashbacks, verbal cues, and the final few lines. This Arendt is one of the most convincing philosophers portrayed on screen. You feel her thinking in her stares, in her smiles, in every puff at her cigarette.

It's clear why Ms. Von Trotter decided to quote directly from the archival footage of the trial. Nothing but the voice and images of the Nazi criminal himself could have ultimately convinced us, the audience, of the truth of then controversial conclusions made by Arendt. To the world, that was a monster caged in glasses; to her sharp mind and eyes, he was a mediocre bureaucrat, manifesting the "banality of evil"; and there lied a much more dangerous truth.

The family discussions whether in German or English are as sharp and convincing as one could wish. She, her husband and friends, aren't talking over each other for the sake of the camera or the ambience; they are actually driving forward the point of the argument. This is a film made with conviction, with belief in the thoughts and substantial themes presented; and the director and the actor have allowed as much of these as possible to come forward in a clearly shaped linear narrative.

The music by André Mergenthaler, mostly employing the strings, is surprisingly as effective as it's simple. The casting of supposedly American characters and subsequent dubbing is often problematic, as English seems not to be their primary language, judging from their forced accent and enunciation. That's a regrettable fact for an otherwise fine film as this, which thrives on the power of its performers, even though we may understand this could have happened due to budget limits.

Altogether, however, this is a film not to be missed.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
(*) Source for cast and crew:
(*) My earlier review of "Vision" (2009) also by Margarethe von Trotta and Barbara Sukowa.