An Interview with Margarethe von Trotta on Her Upcoming Film About Hannah Arendt

8898401-STANDARDOver at the Goethe Institute:

Thinking and writing, those are the things that really defined the great philosopher Hannah Arendt. The objective of the film was to transform this thought into a film, to make it a visual embodiment of a real person.

How does one use film to describe a woman who thinks? How can we watch her while she thinks? That is of course the big challenge when making a film about intellectual personalities. I insisted that Barbara Sukowa play Hannah because she is the only actress I know who I could imagine showing me how someone thinks, or that someone is thinking. And she managed to do it. For me, it was clear from the beginning that she was the one, and I had to push for her to get the role because some of the investors couldn’t visualize it. I said to them, “I am not doing this film without her.” I had the same situation with Rosa Luxemburg and again with Hildegard von Bingen – she really experienced the intellectual nature of Rosa’s political speeches, for example. That is how it is with Hannah Arendt. The viewer has to see that she is really thinking. She does two speeches in this film as well. Arendt was a professor at various universities in the United States and she did seminars and speeches on philosophical and political subject matter. In situations like that, it’s not about just reading your lines. You have to be able to improvise and develop the speech as you go. In the film there is a six-minute speech in English, with the strong German accent that Arendt had, and Sukowa is able to get viewers to experience, think and follow her analyses.

What were the preparations for the film like? And what about your contact with Arendt’s world?

Before we started writing the screenplay we met with a lot of people in New York who had known Arendt well on a personal level. People like Lotte Köhler, her longtime colleague and friend who died in 2011 at the age of 92, or Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who also died in 2011, as well as others like Lore Jonas, widow of Hans Jonas, and Jerome Kohn, her last assistant and publisher of her posthumous writings. Those were amazing encounters, the stuff you need when you are writing a script about this type of real person who you’ve never met yourself.