Of course, footwear as a visual fulcrum is nothing new. Genre painters from Jan Steen on (and probably earlier) have routinely put preposterous-looking Dutch shoes in the foreground of their messy households. Van Gogh has painted several pairs of peasants’ shoes that have seen better days, saturated with the weariness of hard labor, but still functional and not to be discarded. In “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger speaks of these shoes as reflexive “equipment,” instrumentalized forms that mirror the starkly enduring lives of those who wear them.
The arguments of Arendt’s opponents here only get a cursory treatment. This is consistent with the style of citation that seems to be the major liability in von Trotta’s approach to history, as well as to feminism. The secondary actors in von Trotta’s biopics often feel like signposts. At the New York press screening of Hannah Arendt, representatives from the distributor, Zeitgeist, handed out a xeroxed packet identifying the various figures on screen; certain scenes, like a few (gratuitous) flashbacks showing Arendt with her graduate school professor Martin Heidegger, would be unintelligible if you did not already know who he was and that the two had a love affair. The arguments from her critics feel like actor Klaus Pohl’s stage mustache: grown on a bit too quickly and dyed too starkly to convince.