Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Hannah Arendt.

As you may be aware a very easy going and non-academic discussion normally follow’s Monday night’s Film Club showings at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre and on rare occasions we have a guest who is willing to take part in a Q&A session. But this week’s screening was followed by something very different! We had as our guest Dr Benjamin Franks a Lecturer in Social and Political Philosophy in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Glasgow University although he is based at our very own Dumfries Campus. Introducing our visitor was Ms Susan Kenny who is not only a member of the gallant RBCFT staff but also one of Dr Franks students.
Eichmann in Jerusalem.
The reason for such an eminent guest was the German/Luxembourg/French co-production Hannah Arendt (2012) a biological drama film about the German Jewish philosopher and political theorist who volunteered to cover the 1961 trail of ex-Nazi SS leader Adolf Eichmann for the American publication The New Yorker. Eichmann had been kidnapped in Argentina, where he lived, by the Israeli secret service Mossad and taken to Jerusalem for a ‘trial’ for his complicity in the Holocaust. The movie portrays the affect on Arendt’s family, friends and the Jewish community when her writings on the trial were published. The book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil coursed controversy because of its depiction of both Eichmann and the Jewish Councils alleged collaboration with the Nazis that contributed to the annihilation of their fellow men, woman and children. Also disputed was Arendt’s now-famous concept of ‘the banality of evil’ that theorised that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state to carry out orders without question or thought and therefore participate with the view that their actions were normal, which was the basis of Eichmann’s defence!
Hannah Arendt.

Barbara Sukowa.

Dr Franks post film discussion touched on many of the points raised by the film including the nature of evil, whether Arendt’s theory was correct or the Holocaust was a radical evil something I assumed to mean the perpetrator actually liked and enjoyed carrying out his evilness, which I believe is normally coupled with sexual gratification. We discussed the role of the journalist whose responsibility is to report the facts and if at all possible not to deliberately misrepresent them to their readers. Another interesting point, would we be prepared to damage out relationship with our family and friends though our writing as Hannah Arendt did. I personally would hope that most of us would have principals? Enlightenment in totalitarianism and the sense of belonging was touched upon, as was the politics of Israel and the Zionist’s. Dr Franks finished this truly enlightened discussion by comparing Eichmann dehumanisation with the role of Hannah Arendt, as a victim herself, was she unnecessarily persecuted for her philosophies? But without her stand against her own Jewishness would any of us feel able to criticise Israel without being accused of being an anti Semite?

Margarethe von Trotta.
Director Margarethe von Trotta was a leading force in the New German Cinema Movement that lasted from the late 1960’s into the 1980’s. Influenced by the French New Wave it offered up other great German directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlondorff and Wim Wenders. Von Trotta was also an actress who worked under Fassbinder in The American Soldier (1970), Gods of the Plague (1970) and Beware of the Holly Whore (1971). She shared directorial duties with her then husband Volker Schlondorff on The Lost Honour of Katherine Blum (1975) as well as an uncredited role in the film. From there she went on to direct a total of 23 TV and feature films. She became regarded as ‘the worlds leading feminist filmmaker', something she disputes.  Hannah Arendt is brilliantly portrayed by film and theatre actress Barbara Sukowa who has also worked with Fassbinder including his masterwork Berlin Alexandaplatz (1980) and in 1981 took the lead role in Lola.  She has also worked previously with von Trotta. American novelist Mary McCarthy is stylishly played by the English TV and film actress Janet McTeer who you may have seen at the RBCFT as Mrs Daily in The Woman in Black (2012) but who I first remember in the 1990 mini TV series Portrait of a Marriage which detailed the real life love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Keppel.
The wonderful Janet McTeer as Mary McCarthy.
The problem with portraying such a strong intellectual political subject is that at times it can be heavy going. The most fascinating sections of the movie were these that involved the archive film of Adolf Eichmann’s show trial, which is expertly edited into the main film.  To be fair I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed the movie quite so much if Dr Franks had not given his very interesting post movie talk, and for that I give him my sincere thanks.

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