German film takes an inspiring view on history

A bio-pic focusing on a Jewish Journalist’s controversial articles on the Eichmann trials; Hannah Arendt could easily have turned into a sad memoir with self-indulgent, sentimental monologues. Instead, it delicately offers a glimpse into the logic that led Arendt to travel to Jerusalem, witness the Eichmann trials and write an article that caused resentment in her friends and uproar in the Jewish community.

While the storyline is disorienting in certain places, the lack of linear hand-holding is actually refreshing. Rather than explaining every background detail in the first five minutes, the script is natural and unforced. It has many instances of irrelevant, conversational lines that have no specific agenda in the story, but add significantly to the realistic, human quality. Examples include one character warning another not to run into a glass door.

These irrelevant lines are counterbalanced by details that are determinately intentional. The cigar smoke, for example, constantly circling above Arendt’s head, symbolizes her deep thoughts. When the intellectual discussion heats up during a party, everyone smokes, except for Hannah’s vapid friend who rushes to the other room waving her hands in the air complaining about the smoke.

Though the subject of the movie could not be more sober – writing about a man who was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews in WWII – the film’s execution is not depressing. The story is not one of a Jewish exile seeking catharsis, but rather of a philosopher seeking truth.

Hannah Arendt is the central character of the movie, but the movie does not insist on framing her as the heroine. No, she is merely the messenger of a larger story. A love story for truth, words and teaching. Rather than telling you what to think, the movie expects you to do your own research once the credits start rolling.

“Most of our readers don’t understand greek,” said the chief-editor for the New Yorker as he prepared Arendt’s articles for publication, to which she responded, “They should learn.” In the same way, the film does not expect ignorance in its audience but rather hopes to inspire learning.

What’s to love?

  • The performance is so convincing, you forget Hannah Arendt is played by an actress.
  • The flow between English and German is seamless.
  • Clips from the original Eichmann trials are used.

If you go:

Where: Cosford Cinema

When: Oct. 1, 2013