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Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt (2015)

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A documentary about the life and work of hannah arendt, the prolific and unclassifiable thinker,political theorist, moral philosopher and polemicist, and with her encounter with the trial of Eichmann a high ranking nazi.

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Ada Ushpiz

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Ada Ushpiz
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Cast

Credited cast:
Hannah Arendt ... Herself (archive footage)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Leon Botstein Leon Botstein ... Himself - President of Bard College
Judith Butler Judith Butler ... Herself
Alison Darcy Alison Darcy ... Hannah Arendt (voice)
Adolf Eichmann Adolf Eichmann ... Himself (archive footage)
Martin Heidegger ... Himself (archive footage)
Hans Jonas Hans Jonas ... Himself
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A documentary about the life and work of hannah arendt, the prolific and unclassifiable thinker,political theorist, moral philosopher and polemicist, and with her encounter with the trial of Eichmann a high ranking nazi.

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Documentary

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Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

Israel | Canada

Language:

English | German | Hebrew | French

Release Date:

2015 (Israel) See more »

Also Known As:

Hannah Arendt - Die Pflicht zum Ungehorsam See more »

Filming Locations:

Israel See more »

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Stereo

Color:

Color | Black and White (archive footage)

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Challenging and dense
29 June 2016 | by dloft59See all my reviews

The German-Jewish philosopher, Johanna "Hannah" Arendt is famous for the phrase "the banality of evil," which she coined after observing the trial of Nazi Holocaust organizer Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. She devoted her life to writing and speaking about human rights, the importance of thought as (as well as in addition to) action, and the nature of power. She rarely misstepped, though her early affair with teacher Martin Heidegger, who later worked within the Nazi regime, and her continued support and defense of him after the war, certainly raises questions.

Arendt is clearly a worthy subject for a biographical documentary, and the filmmakers have done an interesting job of it. They've found extremely rare archival footage (from private videos of the Heidegger family to Nazi concentration camp guards clowning behind closed doors) and combined it with stock footage that may or may not relate to the narration or prose from books and letters read by actors over the soundtrack. There's quite a bit of video footage of the Eichmann trial -- certainly a pivotal event in Arendt's life and writings -- though perhaps not that illuminating in itself.

The excerpts from her political and philosophical writings are largely served in small doses -- slowly, with air time and comments by current experts to help the viewer to absorb them -- but it remains an exhausting exercise in concentration. I found myself flagging -- in energy, not so much as interest -- about 80 percent of the way into this admittedly long 132-minute film. Excerpts from personal letters by Arendt and several of the men in her life, both teachers and lovers (again read in English by actors), may have been chosen to give us a breather, but they aren't that instructive otherwise.

What is vital about this film is what Arendt can teach us about political fairness and balance, how not to yield to the temptations offered by totalitarian figures and governments. One cannot help think or more recent figures and events in history. Some of her aged students and contemporary academics that appear on camera are very helpful here, as well as archival video interviews with the philosopher herself.

She deserves the attention, and though this isn't an easy film to digest, it's hard to imagine how one could make the job much easier without possibly doing a disservice to its subject.


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