Review: Where Is Anne Frank

Moviegoers who approach this animated feature about the famous teenage memoirist because it was written and directed by Ari Folman should be warned that it is very different in tone and substance from his most famous movie, Waltz With Bashir (2008). Bashir was a shocking depiction of wartime memory that was clearly aimed at adult sensibilities, whereas Anne Frank is more or less a children’s (or YA) movie, with an edifying theme and a story that moves adroitly between straightforward melodrama and action scenes. As such, it doesn’t quite pack as much of a visceral punch as Bashir, though it has much to recommend it as a serious reimagining of Frank’s story in the 21st century.

The framing is modern: the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, where tourists line up for hours every morning to look at the recreation of the secret apartments where Anne and her family hid out from the Nazis for two years during World War II. It also contains Anne’s actual diary, displayed in a glass case, which, one morning, is shattered by a fierce storm that hits the city and breaks the windows of the museum. Exposed to the elements, the diary comes to life in the form of Kitty, the imaginary friend in whom Anne invested as an interlocutor, a kind of ideal composite of all her favorite Hollywood stars and her own better angels. Kitty at first does not realize she is not in 1944 any more and watches curiously at the multinational crowds who come through the museum. In a panic, she eventually leaves the building with the diary, and the whole city itself panics because that volume defines Amsterdam’s existence, both spiritually and economically. Kitty the fugitive takes sanctuary with some refugee street kids, and the movie moves back-and-forth between the tale of Anne Frank as related to Kitty in the 1940s and Kitty’s own on-the-lam existence in the present.

Folman’s visual style is rooted in simplification: the Nazis are all identical, silent droogs, impossibly tall and draped in black. And while the city itself is impressively rendered as a believable urban sprawl—half museum piece itself and half neglected municipal everywhere—the characters are all types, including the refugees who are meant to show the (young) viewers that while the kind of fascism that led to the Holocaust may no longer be extant, the displacement of innocent lives by war continues unchecked. Folman, an Israeli, doesn’t try to compare the Jews of World War II to Middle Eastern and African migrants. That said, the current refugee crisis involving Ukrainians gives the movie an added subtext that highlights his potent plot point about how these non-European refugees were refused asylum in one European country after another, including the Netherlands. Basically, Forman just wants to show that the ideas people take away from Anne’s writing are more universal than the way they applied to her own tragedy. More seriously, the Anne “industry” as it’s conveyed in the film is a betrayal of these ideas, but by couching this aspect of the movie’s theme in action cliches (there’s a heart-stopping chase over the city’s rooftops and through its myriad frozen canals) designed to attract young people who, presumably, wouldn’t watch the movie otherwise, it tends to lose some of its power as a result. Folman also assumes most of the viewers know something of Anne’s story, which makes much of the exposition seem heavy-handed, though I suppose he is just covering all his bases. Ideally, he expects young people to either have read Anne’s diary or at least know what it’s about, but that may not be as much of a given as it once was. 

In English. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063).

Where Is Anne Frank home page in Japanese

photo (c) Anne Franks Fonds Basel, Switzerland

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