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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