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By Robert Scheer

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Upcoming: A Film on Hannah Arendt

Posted on Mar 28, 2012
Ben Northern (CC-BY)

Hannah Arendt in illustration.

German film director Margarethe von Trotta is at work on a film about Hannah Arendt, the 20th century political philosopher who coined the phrase “banality of evil” while reporting on the trial of Nazi officer and Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann. The term refers to the idea that history’s greatest man-made horrors were perpetrated by ordinary people dutifully executing their roles in groups they accepted without question.

Von Trotta spoke briefly about the project with the Goethe-Institut, a worldwide German cultural association. —ARK


The film is set between 1960 and 1964, during the Adolf Eichmann years, a national socialist who organized the genocide against Jews in World War II, was arrested and tried in Jerusalem, and then hanged in 1962 for his crimes. Hannah Arendt reported on the trial for “The New Yorker” magazine. Her article described Eichmann as representing the “banality of evil”, a turn of phrase that was immediately adopted into everyday language. How does one portray a man like Eichmann in a film?

I don’t think an actor can bring out what a person really feels when he/she sees and observes the real Eichmann. The misery, the mediocrity, the bureaucratic language – the man was unable to utter a normal sentence. He was a civil servant. The awe and disgust that one experiences when watching this man isn’t possible when it is an actor, I don’t think, so we decided to show Hannah primarily in the press office – which did exist – where the trial was being shown on TV screens. That allowed me to use the original black-and-white documentary footage.

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By Tobysgirl, March 30, 2012 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

Better than any film about Arendt could possibly be: READ HER BOOKS. What she has to say about totalitarianism is brilliant (the only flaw is her Eurocentrism, which hardly intrudes) and relevant.

What greatest generation? The one that at best sat by while Americans’ rights were being abrogated? (McCarthyism) The ones that wouldn’t allow a dead Native American soldier to be buried in the town cemetery? (Iowa) The ones that said “more of them should have been killed” after Kent State? As my husband says, the greediest generation is more like it.

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By heterochromatic, March 29, 2012 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

It should be an excellent film as she lead an
interesting life in the middle of horrific times.

I met her once when I was teenaged philosophy student
and argued with her with more fervor than was polite
and have ever regretted doing so.

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