Movie exposes misinterpreted Hannah Arendt

 

Hannah Arendt is nowadays praised as one of the most important political theorists and philosophers of the 20th century, something that seem inconsistent with the many reviews her texts about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 got at the time of its publication. The movie, entitled after her, recounts this episode, from the moment she offered herself to serve as The New Yorker reporter, her thought and writing process and the public’s response to the publication of her article and, later, book.

It is fascinating when somebody theorizes her own life experiences, or the experiences of her own generation, objectively. A sensible point of view, avoiding the danger of simplifying events, is something hard to conquer, and in her case, hard to advocate. Many people seemed to think Arendt was making excuses for Eichmann’s behavior, and consequently for the nazis behavior as a whole, when in reality she was reporting the perception Eichmann had of his own actions. He portrayed himself as a bureaucrat, someone who was merely following orders and not necessarily understood the consequences of what he did daily while working for Hitler’s government. From his perspective, all he did was sign documents and follow orders. Adolf Eichmann, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, was responsible for several deportation proceedings, including the transportation of over 1.5 million Jews from all over Europe to killing centers located in occupied areas of  Poland and the Soviet Union while working for the Clearing Activities division of the Gestapo between 1940 and March 1941.  As a result of the trial held in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1961, Eichmann was found guilt and sentenced to death. He was hanged in June, 1962, his body was cremated and his ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israeli waters.

Many of Arendt’s friends and fellow scholars expected a jewish woman and a concentration camp survivor to be more emphatic on his active responsibility in regards to the numerous deaths. Not only that, they never expected she would public blame part of Jewish leaders for their participation on the persecution of their own people, being known some gave valuable information on other Jews to nazis in exchange for their personal protection.

For so many reasons, Hannah Arendt is a must-see. From the recount of a historic episode to the discussion of philosophical, academic and scientific standards her work stand for, it is impossible to leave the room without reflecting about World War II, the banality of evil, to use Arendt’s phrasing, and what sort of changes society went through since 1940. Ultimately, it makes us think about the past that shaped what the world is now and it leaves us questioning the notion that we would learn from our mistakes, since ethnic and religion differences are still factors for crimes against humanity nowadays.

* A friendly reminder for those who don’t appreciate captions: Hannah Arendt is not an american movie, but most of it is spoken in English.

When two forces collide

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Flores Raras (in English, Rare Flowers, although I believe the movie has been called Reaching For The Moon in the USA)  is a brazilian movie about the relationship between the american poet Elizabeth Bishop and the brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares, a movie I would dare to say I could only watch while visiting Brazil. Few opportunities I had while living in Ohio to watch foreign movies, mostly because they are not available in any theatre in a radius of 40 miles from my house. Even movies like this one, mainly spoke in English, would have a tough time to find its way to ohioan theaters.

The movie is not perfect, it actually has many flaws, one of them being the sometimes overly butch interpretation of Lota, performed by brazilian actress Gloria Pires, while trying to portray somebody confident, impetuous and strong minded. Lota’s character is a dissonant contrast in comparison to the brittle Elizabeth Bishop, performed by the australian actress Miranda Otto. Bishop is characterized as an alcoholic whose self esteem and confidence only grows during her 20 years relationship with Lota, despite their cultural and social differences that sometimes get in the way. This period is when her poetry reaches its full potential and the poet won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1956. It is also an intricate political and historical time for Brazil, something that is brought to light a few times during the narrative.

The relationship between the two women is beautifully portrayed, alternating delicate,  tender, loving scenes, with sexy scenes without appealing to the vulgar, cheap elements of sex, trying successfully not to become a source of harassment, or a porn movie.  According to the director, Bruno Barreto, that was one of the concerns during the shooting.

From my point of view, their encounter is much more interesting from the creative, professional point of view, like a collision between two gigantic forces from different natures and cultures. In their own way, two courageous, bold women who defied conventions by assuming their own lifestyle. In that sense, the movie satisfies my literary curiosity by showing a little bit about Elizabeth Bishop’s life, which is always interesting.

Talk to me, “Before Midnight”.

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Richard Linklater’s sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset bring us back to the love saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), nine years after our last encounter with the characters. The questions, the anxieties, the doubts any fan had about what happened to the couple in and after Paris are finally revealed, surprisingly not leaving room for criticism.

On the first one, Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse meet on a train and they spend one day in Vienna getting to know each other before they part, at sunrise, promising to meet again in a determined place, date and time. They never exchange phone numbers, emails, so their only hope and chance of meeting again is to be there at the scheduled date. They are in their early twenties, still trying to figure out who they are.

Before Sunset shows us the characters getting together in Paris after nine years, during Jesse’s book launch party. Celine reads a summary of his book only to discover he wrote about them and she decides to go after him. We also learn that Jesse was stood up at the fatidic reencounter and he is now married, father of a boy. After a day together, talking about the past and what happened with their dreams, Jesse looses his plane to stay with Celine. As the time passes, the characters mature and new problems and dilemmas come to surface in their dialogues, which is where the strength of the movies relies.

In Before Midnight, they are still together, they have twins, but Jesse struggles to say goodbye to his american soon after spending a summer vacation together in Greece. Jesse implies that he would consider moving to Chicago to stay closer to his son, a revelation that is not taken very well by Celine. The drama takes another dimension as it moves from their individual problems, portrayed on the earlier movies, to their complex issues as a couple.

It was a particularly good experience to me because my husband happened to be away, backpacking. I am sure he would complain the movie is “all about their conversation”, “there is no action”, “too dramatic”, “too intellectual, too brainy”, stuff like this. As a woman, not necessarily a passionate feminist as Celine, there is no way you won’t relate with some of the characters dilemmas. Just to name one: the constant struggle to have a career and take care of your family, while trying to share some of the responsibilities and duties with your husband or partner.

The recognition of their problems presents the couple with two options: stay or leave. I guess when you put things in perspective, differently than what most fairy tales teach us, sometimes, love is not enough. Love is not a proof of happiness, it doesn’t ensures anything, except, maybe, that somebody cares about you. I say maybe because some people have a disturbingly weird way of showing love, and, let’s face it, in those circumstances you might be better off alone. My point is: if love is not enough to make us happy, is it enough to keep people together? The movie offers a wonderful insight into a couples life and a realistic answer to that question, something a little difficult in movies nowadays.