Director Margarthe von Trotta had the very difficult job of taking on the true life story of Hannah Arendt. Even Trotta herself didn't immediately sign on to do this film, rather she took a bit of time to ponder and convince herself that she could take on this delicate and controversial task. I've written reviews on movies about the Holocaust, and most recently I wrote a review on 'Shoah', which is an amazing documentary that had survivors, witnesses, and actual S.S. officers discuss comprehensively that period of time and genocide.
Being Jewish, and having members of family that were in the holocaust, some survived and some didn't, it's always a topic I enjoy discussing with people who want to learn about it and know a fraction of the horrors that went on, but it's also a punch in the gut every time I talk about it. While this film isn't necessarily about the Holocaust on the surface, it very much deals with the evil that committed the crimes, and the impacts it had some decades later. And Trotta and actress Barbara Sukowa do an elegant job with the subject matter here.
If you're unfamiliar with Hannah Arendt, she is a real life person who was actually in the Holocaust. She barely escaped with her life and moved to the United States, where she became an intellectual writer and teacher, and taught at some of the best universities this country has to offer. She married a professor and surrounded herself with friends who were also on her intellectual level. Needless to say, she is a very smart woman.
In 1960, one of the higher-ups in the Nazi party, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of innocent Jews, was found in South America, hiding out. That Nazi war criminal was Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was actually one of the main organizers for killing the Jews, meaning he set up and put out orders to kill. Once Hannah saw the news of this, her past came back to her haunt her in a a vivid and severe way, and she wanted to write about this man and find out how big of a monster he really was. She volunteered to write a big article for The New Yorker on the trial of Eichmann, which was titled 'Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil'.
When most of us think about Nazis and some of the leaders of the Nazi party, we have this conceived notion in our head that these Nazis were big monsters, that were just hell-bent on ravaging anything and everything. But while Arendt was supervising the trial in the press room, she realized that Eichmann was just a man, and her story became about how plain and simple people committed and can commit horrendous acts of violence. This is such a true statement, even in today's world. Just take a look at some of the horrendous movie theater shootings and school shootings.
The people who committed those crimes were just ordinary people, who rarely had any kind of previous encounter with police, and who neighbors and friends described as nice, quiet people. But Eichmann is different. Eichmann was a leader in a mass murdering Jew-hating army, and led many soldiers to murder innocent women, children, and men. And when Eichmann was questioned why, he simply stated that he was following orders, and didn't particularly hate the Jews, but was just following instructions from a higher rank than himself. And with watching many documentaries, including 'Shoah', this seems to be the standard case when S.S. officers were questioned about their crimes. It's complete and utter bullshit if you ask me, but that is what they answered with, and almost all of them were executed after their trial.
But after Arendt wrote her article, many people lashed out at her, telling her that she was a Nazi conspirator. It came out later that in Arendt's earlier life, she had an affair with a man who joined the Nazi party, but their relationship ended when he joined. Years later he didn't believe in the story the Nazis were telling him and 'left the building', so to speak, but never ended his relationship with the party itself.
Arendt and this man still spoke and were civil in later years, but she never forgave him. This also prompted people to lash out at Hannah. What Arendt spend so many years and words trying to say was that we need to truly understand evil and we can't label somebody a monster immediately after a heinous act. Sure, the acts are evil, but the people themselves are usually just normal people, and maybe we all posses that 'spark' to do something terrible, as she saw with Eichmann, who was just a pathetic and easy guy, who committed these awful crimes, because he was just following orders.
And this movie covers this point in Arendt's life where she first sees the news of Eichmann's capture and her struggles to keep her sanity with all the negative publicity, as well as her own demons from when she was in the holocaust. Sukowa does an amazing job as Arendt, and we see her deep seeded pain as the movie progresses, and even if we want to believe in her or not, we know that she is on to something special. And Trotta's camera is perfect here, and never over does a scene for a cheese factor. 'Hannah Arendt' is a remarkable story of a woman who wanted to understand what was done to her and her people not all that long ago. Powerful film.
'Hannah Arendt' comes with a nice 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This film was shot entirely digitally and has a small minor issue. Otherwise, the picture itself is very sharp in detail with well defined closeups of the actors and some good depth for the backgrounds. The blacks run deep and inky here as well, even in the old archival black and white footage that appears.
The colors are pale almost throughout, especially in the courtroom scenes, but when we are not in a courtroom or looking at archival footage, the colors seem to pop out brighter and have a warmth to them. Skin tones always look natural and smooth here. There aren't a whole lot of issues here, but there is some minor aliasing throughout the film. It's nothing that you should write home about nor does it distract, but it's there. Other than that, this is a very good video presentation.
This release comes with a solid lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix, along with a PCM 2.0 stereo audio track, that is English dubbed. The primary language here is German, but a good portion of the film is in English, but you'll have some good English sub-titles along the way. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand.
There was no evidence of any pops, cracks, or hissing. This is mostly a front heavy sound mix, but from time to time, we get some ambient noises, sound effects, and dialogue coming from the rears and left and rights, which provide some good directionality. The dynamic range is fairly wide here as well. The score does a good job of setting the mood and has a graceful note to everything. Solid audio presentation for what it is.
'Hannah Arendt' is a great film that has some excellent acting and direction. This true story is powerful, yet haunting and will stay with you for a while after viewing. No matter what you believe or think, we all know for sure that Arendt was on to something big. The video and audio are solid here, with at least one very good extra. Given the story and nature of this movie, I highly recommend it.