Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hannah Arendt (2012)

What a joy to return home and find the books you ordered waiting for you near your chocolate (or fruit, it's also ok.) I just received my long awaiting books that belong to Political Science/Philosophy section, as they clearly state. Two hot titles On Violence and The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, leading political thinker of our times that I discovered -blame it on my arts and culture education- through cinema. Which is a passionate and efficient tool not only to tell stories and entertain, but also to open windows to another part of this world, which is totally disconnected to our microcosm and to get messages through.

In this sense, watching Hannah Arendt biopic was an eye-opening experience. It brought me to her and her strong detachment from sentimental thinking, which is one of the qualities I have a love and hate relationship with.

The film  per se is a humble biopic that for once doesn't aspire to cover every possible detail of Hannah's life -except for insisting on her being a compulsive smoker-, but just a certain incident in her life. With very few flashbacks and a fine sense of nowness the film describes her involvement in Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, revealing her strong, defiant personality, one devoted to the discovery of truth (if there is one) rather than to a narcissistic self of being, devoted to fans (sic) devotion.
Margarethe Von Trotta is said to be a "feminist" director, and prominent female characters in her films are ready to prove that. I'm always happy to see engaging and socially engaged female directors, as much as I love ones with the sense of originality -and unfortunately this last thing is not a favor Von Trotta did to me. Her biopic of Rosa Luxembourg did not invent a new filmic language either, but with its sensible sense of open spaces in contrast with jail's closeness made it a powerful one.

On the contrary, her recent one Hannah Arendt, while keeping her usual and glorified female lead Barbara Sukowa, seems a bit aged. Its slow pace, theatrical mise en scene and at times unnatural acting from second roles, not to mention unnecessary scenes that are supposed to make the film a little less heavy with no success, leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling when it comes to evaluation.

While watching, I was taking notes; certain things really struck me. If we were to take this film as a casual example of European cinema versus its American counterpart, we would summon up that: 

  • European films lose time: the film starts with no standard establishing shot; it's not giving us the context or the outline of the story any time soon, neither does it make an impressive entrance.
  • Europeans smoke a lot and they get great pleasure out of it (more than out of anything else, I swear to god)
  • European actors are stiff, stiff, stiff and screenwriters have no clue on how to write good dialogue; characters interact with each other in the least responsive way; they say unnecessary stuff, they recite lines instead of being the character whose lines they recite.
  • Europeans take camera movement and shooting angles for a sadistic game to break the audiences sense of identification; they don't facilitate the story, the obstruct it, making themselves a tad too obvious.
I guess I can stop here, I may exaggerate a bit, but you get the point. This is a worthwhile film, but not a piece of raging craftsmanship; and I regret to see american stuff being wonderfully crafted, even if the subject matter equals to nothing.

Naturally, the problematic on the banality of evil echoes Kate Winslet's character in The Reader (2008). She was equally unable to make moral judgements on the orders she was being given, before deciding to follow or defy them, just like Eichmann and probably many others during the Holocaust or any other example of extensive genocides, war crimes etc.

Special mention to the classic, but classy compositions of the gifted (and local) André Mergenthaler, to the impressive forests of the region, and to the Luxemburgish crew and artists, some of them only unveil themselves in the ending credits.

I see that the film garnered more prizes since I watched it, half a month ago; de gustibus et de coloribus, non disputandum. Or should we just bear in mind that prizes are occasionally a matter of politics and P.R.? In any case, I go start my Hannah Arendt reading -there's less space for disappointment there. 

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