×

Hannah Arendt

This biopic feels like a movie stuck in another era, stolid and rote, more of an outline for a dramatic treatment than the real thing.

With:
With: Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Michael Degen, Nicholas Woodeson, Klaus Pohl. (German, English, Hebrew dialogue)

The daring ideas about the banality of Nazi evil advanced by political philosopher Hannah Arendt receive a distinctly non-daring treatment in director Margarethe von Trotta’s latest film study of great women. Unlike her previous film, “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen,” Von Trotta’s Arendt biopic feels like a movie stuck in another era, stolid and rote, more of an outline for a dramatic treatment than the real thing. This is unfortunate, since Arendt’s notions deserve constant renewal and discussion, though this attempt won’t travel much beyond prime Euro markets.

The pic’s opening moments comprise its sole action, per se, with Israel’s Mossad secret service snatching Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from his hideout in Buenos Aires, though this specific information only becomes apparent in scenes after the introduction of Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) living in happy exile in New York with husband Heinrich Blucher (Axel Milberg).

News of the abduction and planned trial in Jerusalem compels Arendt to pitch the New Yorker magazine on a long report, a feather in the prestigious cap of editor William Shawn (Nicholas Woodeson), given that Arendt is already a giant intellectual figure, thanks to her 1951 masterpiece of 20th history, “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” Old friend and fellow exile Hans Jonas (Ulrich Noethen) discourages Arendt from returning to the hotbed issues of the Holocaust, while good pal and novelist Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer, in the movie’s only energetic, wit-inflected and magnetic performance) cheers her on.

More compelling than the sight of Arendt in the pressroom for the Eichmann trial is the plentiful and seldom-seen black-and-white television footage of the trial itself, crucially containing many closeup shots of the accused — who does, indeed, look like “a nobody,” as Arendt comments to her Jerusalem companion, Kurt Blumenfeld (Michael Degen). From this observation, Arendt develops her thesis that Eichmann allowed himself to follow the most heinous orders because he denied the possibility of thinking for himself.

Arendt’s text arrives on Shawn’s desk, but he worries that her observation that leading European Jewish leaders became compliant with the Nazis — while accurately reflecting testimony in the trial — could set off a firestorm. Predictably, it does, and the Sturm und Drang over the controversy consumes much of the lumbering film’s second half.

As rich an intellectual field as the pic plows, Von Trotta, with screenwriter Pam Katz, can’t manage to make it exciting onscreen, compounding the problems with English dialogue delivered so awkwardly that it becomes the movie’s unintended comic motif. Sukowa, a strong and lean performer, is provided a giant character but a parched role that lacks a heartbeat. Milberg and Julia Jentsch as Arendt’s loyal secretary give needed human touches amid the woodenness.

The pic’s general look is dim and drab, though Frauke Firl’s fine early 1960s costumes are cosmopolitan to a tee.

Popular on Variety

Hannah Arendt

Germany

Production: A Sophie Dulac Distribution (in France) release of a Heimatfilm production in co-production with Amour Fou Luxembourg/Mact Prods./Sophie Dulac Prods./Metro Communications/ARD Degeto/BR/WDR. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Bettina Brokemper, Johannes Rexin. Co-producers, Bady Minck, Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Sophie Dulac, Michel Zana, David Silber. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Screenplay, Pam Katz, Von Trotta.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, widescreen, DV), Caroline Champetier; editor, Bettina Bohler; music, Andre Mergenthaler; production designer, Volker Schaeffer; costume designer, Frauke Firl; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Busch; sound designer, Greg Vittore; re-recording mixer, Michael Kranz; line producer, Sascha Verhey; casting, Ros Hubbard, John Hubbard. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 8, 2012. Running time: 113 MIN.

With: With: Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Michael Degen, Nicholas Woodeson, Klaus Pohl. (German, English, Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Sony Pictures: 'We Are Disappointed' by

    Sony 'Disappointed' by Disney's Divorce on 'Spider-Man' Projects

    Sony Pictures has gone public over its divorce with Disney on future “Spider-Man” projects. In a rare public rebuke to Disney, Sony announced Tuesday night that it was “disappointed” over the decision, highlighting Disney’s refusal to allow Marvel President Kevin Feige to continue as a producer on the projects. It also praised Feige, who teamed [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    ‘Good Boys’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Good Boys.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.42 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Demi Lovato

    Demi Lovato Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    Demi Lovato has joined the upcoming Netflix comedy film “Eurovision.” Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Andrew Steele, announced the news Tuesday with an Instagram post, in which he wished Lovato a happy birthday with a “homemade” cake. Following the announcement, Lovato can be seen blowing out candles on the cake next to a “Eurovision” [...]

  • Rob Schneider'The Week Of' film premiere,

    Film News Roundup: Rob Schneider Wins SAG-AFTRA National Board Seat

    In today’s film news roundup, Rob Schneider wins a SAG-AFTRA board seat; “Badland,” “Sorry We Missed You” and “Extracurricular” find homes; and “The Shawshank Redemption” gets a re-release.  SAG-AFTRA Rob Schneider has won a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Schneider won a four-year term [...]

  • This photo shows actor David Oyelowo

    David Oyelowo Joins George Clooney in 'Good Morning, Midnight' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    David Oyelowo is in final negotiations to join George Clooney in Netflix’s untitled adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” sources tell Variety. Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler are also on board, with Clooney set to helm the pic — his first feature film directing gig since 2017’s “Suburbicon.” “The Revenant” screenwriter Mark [...]

  • Disney Delays 'Cruella,' 'Woman in the

    Disney Delays 'Cruella,' 'Woman in the Window'

    Disney is shaking up its release calendar, delaying its live action “Cruella” until Memorial Day 2021 and pushing Fox 2000 drama “The Woman in the Window” to 2020. “Cruella,” starring Emma Stone, is based on the classic “101 Dalmatians” villain Cruella de Vil. The revisit to Disney’s animated classic was originally set to hit theaters [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content