The New Visions programme of Doclisboa presentation – The Diagonal Force, is a black & white opus magnum poetically superimposing Hannah Arendt’s thought onto various spaces of a current European social seclusion, loneliness, and a sense of otherness. Hannah Arendt’s reflections on totalitarian regimes and the pre-, amid, and after WW2 life in Europe put side by side with the late XX century human life stories establish a sense of continuity and relevance of the past for the present. The extensive use of performance and choreography (by Claire Vivianne Sobottke) introduces Hannah Arendt’s lots and views with the accompaniment of theatrical tools of body expressions, exposing the emotional weight left between the lines in her writings.
A lady who used to be a tram driver in Sarajevo during the Yugoslav Wars looks in passing outside a tram window going through streets of the city; the same streets she was proudly taking her passengers through for years during the bloody conflict in the 1990s. She has been deeply traumatised by the tragic death of her tram’s passengers by a shell and is physically unable to work as a tram driver anymore, isolated from normal life by remembrances of the horror she witnessed. Another lady painfully stares at some invisible point somewhere on the horizon, remembering those who died – her whole family and the neighbours. She is lost among the graves of thousands of victims of the Yugoslav Wars, of the people she used to live with – a lonely person experiencing the guilt of survivors.
A German man, growing up in Belgium soon after WW2, as a boy alienated and unwanted by his Belgian peers, developed a fascination with the Medieval ideal of recluse, the hermits, and loneliness. Gradually, he found his place by working with autistic people and becoming their bridge for communicating with the world. He is captivated by walking through the tight labyrinths of rocks that allow him to feel and interact with various forms of the material world sensually and directly. Yet another man – a countertenor from Congo, lives an immigrant life in Europe. As a child in Kinshasa abandoned by his parents and mistreated by his foster family, he was a child of the street, as many others like him, left behind when his parents divorced or remarried. His musical talent paved him the way to normal life, while being gay made him an outsider and forced to immigrate.
All these people, for different reasons, live the life of an alien; they share «an experience of not belonging to the world at all»; the «loneliness – [which is] a common ground for terror, the essence of totalitarian government…» as we hear in Hannah Arendt’s words from the off. Hannah Arendt’s writings on totalitarianism and letters to her friends during WW2 depicting the horrors of the war she lived through as a Jewish person form a foundation for these personal stories of today’s Europe. Although the characters live now, their estrangement comes from the sources of history and society, not dependent on their own will. They have been ousted from their natural communities by events having deep roots in the political world – they are victims of societal momentum.
They have been ousted from their natural communities by events having deep roots in the political world – they are victims of societal momentum.
Gradually, they learn how to live again after their life had been torn to pieces. Some rebuild their world by helping others and, hence, by «becoming [ing] a being of action,» as Hannah Arendt suggests. As she put it in her seminal Human Condition (1958): «In acting and speaking men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world…» This is what the author also writes in her letter to Franz Kafka while regretting the character in his The Aphorisms (1920) retreated from the battle instead of staying and feeling «the force of his own thinking,» an effect of two opposing forces by friction creating a third, «diagonal force that spreads into infinity.» As the film’s directors seem to suggest, the characters of people living in today’s Europe are being shaped by such diagonal forces rippling through time since the times of Hannah Arendt. Regardless of the particular reason for social separation, «those who can sum up in themselves the courage that lies as a very root of action, of becoming an active being» can – similarly to Hannah Arendt herself – leave a mark, and change the whole world, and its configurations.
Reluctance to imagine
The voluminous use of theatrical tools of performance, dance, and movement brings to life a personal story of Hannah Arendt, together with her determination to speak and act. As she put it in the Human Condition: «With word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth…» Claire Vivianne Sobottke conveys the tribulations of the inner life of a person living in danger and exclusion. In the final scenes, her performance is completed by the voice of Hannah Arendt herself in an interview explaining the famous phrase on the «banality of evil» as the realisation that «there’s nothing deep, nothing diabolical. It’s simply the reluctance to imagine what the other is experiencing.» The Diagonal Force reminds us of the words and life of one of the intellectuals, who undeniably had exercised her right to think, speak, and act as a human being.