Director Margarethe von Trotta and actress Barbara Sukowa have worked together six times, creating complex portraits of women who define moral conflict and intellectual rigor -- the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, for instance, in the 1986 film of the same name; the artist/nun Hildegard von Bingen in 2009's "Vision." Now, the pair have taken on the problematic Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher (even though she rejected the term) most famous for looking at Adolf Eichmann and comprehending the "banality of evil."
There was more to her than that, of course, although in von Trotta's "Hannah Arendt," as in life, the Eichmann episode -- which Arendt covered for the New Yorker -- makes up the important and certainly dramatic sequence in the writer's history.
There are flashbacks to her romance with philosopher Martin Heidegger (Klaus Pohl), who turned to the Nazi cause, and thus constituted one of the great moral quandaries of Arendt's life; there is a '60s-era portrayal of New York that makes "Mad Men" look like a documentary. The characterizations -- Janet McTeer as author Mary McCarthy, for instance -- are interesting the way cameos are interesting, but the literary/historical figures themselves are treated facilely and without von Trotta revealing any sound sense of familiarity with the times or the people.
The Eichmann material, again, is riveting, but as with some other based-on-real-life dramas -- "Malcolm X," for example, or "Schindler's List" -- "Hannah's" director can't resist incorporating archival footage and real people into her movie, thus undermining her own drama and cutting the legs out from under her actors.
PLOT The life of the political theorist, journalist and interlocutor of Adolf Eichmann. Unrated
CAST Barbara Sukowa, Janet McTeer, Axel Milberg
BOTTOM LINE Mixed bag, fascinating in its treatment of the Eichmann case, but stilted in its treatment of Arendt and her coterie. (In English and German with English subtitles.)