Hannah Arendt: The Movie




“At last, a film about intellectuals, their world of ideas, conflicting philosophies and strong friendships that keeps us riveted to the screen.” – Emily S. Mendel, Culture Vulture

May 29th, 2013 marks the U.S. opening of Hannah Arendt, a new feature film by Margarethe vonThe film  has recently opened in Europe and Israel to rave reviews and enthusiastic audiences and has been nominated for six LOLAS, the German version of the Oscars. Barbara Sukowa reteams with director Margarethe von Trotta (VisionRosa Luxemburg) and her seeks to make manifest the power of thinking that animates the German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt’s reporting on the 1961 trial of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann in The New Yorker—controversial both for her portrayal of Eichmann and the Jewish councils—introduced her now-famous concept of the “Banality of Evil.” Using footage from the actual Eichmann trial and weaving a narrative that spans three countries, von Trotta beautifully turns the often invisible passion for thought into immersive, dramatic cinema. An Official Selection at the Toronto International and New York Jewish Film Festivals, Hannah Arendt also co-stars Klaus Pohl as philosopher Martin Heidegger, Nicolas Woodeson as New Yorker editor William Shawn, and two-time Oscar Nominee Janet McTeer as novelist Mary McCarthy.

We will be sharing reviews of the film here.

Watch the official trailer for the film here.


Roger Berkowitz for the New York Times:

“Though von Trotta’s film is not a documentary, it does incorporate archival footage of the trial. The director has said that the footage was essential because it let the viewer encounter Eichmann directly. The movie cuts to Arendt, played by Barbara Sukowa, and captures the shock on her face, as Eichmann utters cliché after cliché. It makes visible how and why Arendt concluded that evil in the modern world is done neither by monsters nor by bureaucrats, but by joiners.”

Read the essay here.

Roger Berkowitz for the Paris Review:

“The movie opens with two wordless scenes. The first depicts the Mossad’s abduction of Eichmann. The second follows a silent Hannah Arendt as she lights, and then smokes, a cigarette. Around her, all is darkness, and for a full two minutes, we watch her smoke. Played with passionate intensity by Barbara Sukowa (who won a Lola, the German Oscar), Arendt ambles. She lies down. She inhales. But above all, we see the cigarette’s ash flare brilliantly in the dark. Hannah Arendt, we are to understand, is thinking.”

Read the essay here.

The New York Times:

“I would not hesitate to describe “Hannah Arendt” as an action movie, though of a more than usually dialectical type. Its climax, in which Arendt defends herself against critics, matches some of the great courtroom scenes in cinema and provides a stirring reminder that the labor of figuring out the world is necessary, difficult and sometimes genuinely heroic. ”

Read the full review here.

The Washington Post:

“It’s not easy to make a dynamic  film about someone thinking, but “Hannah Arendt” is just that, thanks largely to Sukowa’s astringent but enormously sympathetic portrayal of a woman dedicated to the notion that passion and the life of the mind can and should be inextricably fused. Apart from that star turn, “Hannah Arendt” should be seen if only for its bracing reminder that critical thinking leads directly to moral judgment. It’s a particularly timely — and chastening — message in our own anti-intellectual age.”

Read the full review here.

The Seattle Times:

“But ultimately this is a thoughtful portrait of  a unique woman, whose blazing, uncompromising intelligence seems to light up the screen. At one point, an editor tries to dissuade her from using foreign phrases in her writing, reminding her that “most of our readers don’t understand Greek.” Arendt doesn’t pause for a moment, crisply retorting, “They should learn.””

Read the full review here.

The Mantle:

“…the most interesting aspects of the film have less to do with how it renders Hannah Arendt the critic and philosopher—the one we know through her published works—and has more to do with the Arendt enmeshed in complicated relations with the colossal intellects that crisscrossed her life.”

Read the full review here.

The Berkshire Eagle:

“Scenes are spoken in the language they would have been in real life, reflecting Arendt’s statelessness, contributing to a feeling of loss which permeated her work. In one scene, German ex-pats discuss politics in Arendt’s apartment. Arendt’s friend, English-speaking Mary McCarthy, is frustrated that she can’t follow along. Arendt missed the sounds of German, yet it wasn’t safe for her to be in her homeland.”

Read the full review here.


“The very best scenes take place between Sukowa and co-star Janet McTeer, who plays novelist Mary McCarthy (The Company She Keeps) – a woman who felt a kinship to Arendt and her alienation as a result of being orphaned at the age of six by the flu epidemic of 1918. McTeer and Sukowa have so much chemistry, you want the scenes to go on and on because we so rarely see female intellectuals in all their glory, being funny and witty and elegantly intelligent over cigarettes and gin.”

Read the full review here.

The New Republic:

“Barbara Sukowa, the marvelous actress who was Rosa Luxemburg, is Arendt, and restates her belief in thought rather than emotional response. Sukowa, who is very appealing in some personal moments in the film, makes Arendt strong in a cool, logical, but humanly unrealistic position.”

Read the full review here.

The L.A. Times:

“She’s  often referred to as a philosopher, but the great thinker and writer Hannah Arendt considered herself a political theorist. However you choose to characterize her work, the absorbing new film “Hannah Arendt finds the living pulse in it, and Barbara Sukowa’s performance in the title role is the kind that reverberates long after the screen goes black.”

Read the full review here.



“Terrific fact-based drama, both thought-provoking and entertaining, about German-born Jewish-American intellectual Hannah Arendt, who covered infamous Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 Jerusalem trial for The New Yorker.”

Read the full review here.


“”Hannah Arendt humanizes an intellectual whose persona is usually remembered as grim as her philosophical observations of 20th century totalitarianism. Writer/director Margarethe von Trotta reveals the woman behind the work at a point when her public writings became entangled with her personal life.”

Read the full review here.


“In director Magaretha van Trotta’s presentation of this dispute, she draws outstanding performances from her lead actress Barbara Sukowa, who is compelling as Arendt, and from the German actors playing her close friends Hans Jonas and Kurt Blumenfeld. Sukowa wonderfully conveys those paradoxical qualities of Arendt that were well-known to her friends: warmth and kindness on the one hand, and on the other a fierce independence and confidence in her own judgment that sometimes estranged her profoundly from others.”

Read the full article here.

The Jewish Daily Forward:

“The script, written jointly by Von Trotta and Pam Katz, a New York-based screenwriter, is smart and nimble, weaving together dialogue on the political and the personal in multiple languages. Original footage from the Eichmann trial is interspersed with the film’s account of Arendt in the court’s pressroom and in conversation with colleagues and friends in Jerusalem and New York.”

Read the full article here.

The Hollywood Reporter:

“One of the hardest tasks in filmmaking is to make ideas sexy, or at least passably interesting, onscreen,The Master being but one recent tussle with the problem. Hannah Arendt is a remarkably successful attempt from heavy-weight German director Margarethe Von Trotta, who has filmed the biopics of Rosa Luxemburg and Hildegard von Bingen with serious passion.  Hannah Arendt, the German-born philosopher who coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the ordinariness of the Holocaust’s perpetrators, seems like an impossible subject for film, yet even viewers who have never read a word of her books will be stirred by her intellectual and emotional courage in Barbara Sokuwa’s award-worthy performance.”

Read the full review here.

The Hairy Dog Review:

“Both by how von Trotta films her and how she is played by Barbara Sukowa, Hannah Arendt is a contradiction of character. She seems void of feeling, but she responds deeply. She explodes with energy, yet her actions are moderate and deliberate. Her vita activa (her most interesting philosophical concept, though the phrase she coins in Eichmann in Jerusalem, “the banality of evil”, is her most well known idea) is expressed in all she does. Watching her, I was impressed with the portrait of a thinker who, above all, was engaged with the world. Without insisting on it, Hannah Arendt portrays its heroine’s interest in restoring the Polity above our Social sphere.”

Read the full review here.


“This clever thematic integration of Arendt’s beliefs with a narrative about her life is just part of what makes this intelligent academic thriller superlative fare. It’s the positioning of a timeless ideology as a parable on the dangers of hopping on bandwagons simply because they are populist that makes this intelligent work exceedingly relevant and inspiring.”

Read the full review here.


The movie reveals some of Arendt’s life, using flashbacks of her affair with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who embraced the Nazi party for security and expediency, and dramatizing her relationship with Israeli friends who reject her after her work is published.

Read the full piece here.


Natan Sznaider, Professor at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo and author of Jewish Memory and the Cosmopolitan Order: Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Condition:

“…you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this movie.  Unfortunately, I came out deeply disappointed.  It’s not simply that this portrait of Arendt is frozen in amber, and celebrates the misunderstandings of 50 years ago, when Eichmann in Jerusalem had just came out.  It’s not simply that it ignores the last 15 years of modern scholarship, which re-excavated her Jewishness in order to make sense of the many things in her writings and actions that otherwise don’t.  It’s that it turns her story inside out.”

Read the full review here.

Spiegel Online:

“von Trotta has made an extremely vivid cinematic essay, thrilling in its every minute, deeply moving in its seriousness and suitably unsettling. The scruples that usually accompany such a project are nowhere to be seen. Instead, with the exception of the odd invention of a scene in which Arendt is stalked by Israeli intelligence, they have led to ideal cinematic decisions.”

Read the full review here.


“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.”

Read the full review here.

The New Yorker:

“The movie balances Arendt’s apparently very happy marriage to Heinrich Blücher (played by Axel Milberg) and her friendship with Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer) not with the turmoil of a regular life from which the extraordinary emerges but, rather, with the gleaming nobility of the life of the mind.”

Read the full review here.



“I recommend this film as a very elegant and skilful portrayal of an intellectual personality caught in a disruptive drama with ramifications beyond her own personal  life, with particular appeal to anyone with any interest in Arendt, or the history of attitudes to the Holocaust.”

Read the full review here.


“An incredibly talky and refreshingly intelligent film, Hannah Arendt smartly explores the life of its subject by keeping the focus restricted to one short time frame. Some flashbacks appear that show Arendt’s relationship with famed philosopher/Nazi affiliate Martin Heidegger, but this femme-centric pic by Margarethe von Trotta knows that the most exciting drama resides in the questions provoked by Arendt’s writings.

Sukowa commands the screen as Arendt, for she is in nearly every frame of the film and boasts a lit cigarette and a burning inquisitiveness in each one. Janet McTeer adds a spot of fun as Arendt’s American friend and ally, and her performance is just one way in which Hannah Arendt keeps itself lively. Far more engaging and insightful than a lecture, Hannah Arendt is sure to enlighten viewers and extend Arendt’s debate well after the final credits.”

Read the full review here.

David Owen, Political Theory Professor at the University of Southampton:

“Arendt sits reading and is haunted by voices from the trial, she spends a lot of time lying down on a divan smoking endless cigarettes, she types in a controlled frenzy. Here it seems to me that the film is linking these features in a way that is insightful and important, namely, that Arendt had to steel herself to write her report at all, that she had to set aside her own feelings and relationships to others in order to be able to try to serve truth, that intellectual conscience (redlichkeit) makes demands that are hard to bear.”

Read the full review here.


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