putting hannah arendt on film

Rieff_hannahandheradmirers_ftrDavid Rieff at The Nation:

If films were horses, almost no one would have placed even a $2 bet on Hannah Arendt, the recent biopic by the independent German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. How did a film that reprises the fifty-year-old controversy about what the German-Jewish refugee and political philosopher thought and wrote in 1963 about the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann become the most talked-about art-house movie of this past summer, and one of the most improbable independent-film successes in recent memory? There have been any number of movies about writers and artists, from Michelangelo to Truman Capote, made by directors of varying intellectual abilities in both Hollywood and Europe, but very few biopics made about intellectuals or philosophers. And with good reason: however wrongly, the lives of writers are thought to be sexy and exciting—think Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dinesen, Lillian Hellman. In contrast, the lives of intellectuals are thought to be deadly dull. It was said of Kant that one would be hard-pressed to infer the existence of the two sexes from his work. So imagine a biopic in which the philosopher is portrayed tramping around eighteenth-century Königsberg, giving his tutorials, writing The Critique of Pure Reason and, perhaps in order to spice up the plot, dashing off a stern letter to his erstwhile disciple Johann Gottlieb Fichte, warning him of the dangers of radical idealism. Its appeal would be, shall we say, somewhat circumscribed, no matter how buttery the popcorn.

But having made biographical films about the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen and Rosa Luxemburg—both of which starred Barbara Sukowa, who also plays the title role in Hannah Arendt—von Trotta is the only living director with a major body of work who could conceivably have mastered so austere and complicated a figure as Arendt.

more here.