Where Is Anne Frank – Film Review
by Brian Merriman
Director – Ari Folman
Writers – Ari Folman, Anne Frank (based on the diary written by)
Stars – Emily Carey (voice), Ruby Stokes (voice), Sebastian Croft (voice)
During our Covid restrictions, I was interested in the impact they had on people, especially young people. In the public response to the difficulty of restriction, adults often infantilised the natural capability of so many young people during a crisis. This reminded me that many had omitted to reference Anne Frank and to benefit from her resilience in supporting our youth.
Rather than bleat out a constant message about the inability of young people to cope with crises, as happened recently, Frank’s compelling diary records her resilience, capacity and optimism, as she not only understood the reason for her confinement but adapted, expressed her struggles and made a lasting impact that still enriches and teaches today.
I am sure she has many peers in the current generations who equal her ability to cope, but the over-protective modern narrative continues to disempower young people and insist they can’t cope with life’s challenges.
I had visited the tiny space in Amsterdam, where she, her family and other adults hid, trying in vain, to escape Nazi persecution between 1942 and 1944. This animated film asks ‘Where is Anne Frank’ (no question mark) in a different context to a pandemic, but a growing crisis of populists embracing extremes to prevail, often targeting their venom on vulnerable people needing protection.
The Franks had fled the rise of Nazism in 1933 and went to Holland. Today, we are witnessing people fleeing war facing similar experiences as Anne did, during her lengthy ordeal. This beautifully animated film asks where is Anne (even though she is all around), in our more recent discourse on the growing challenges of migration into Europe by those fleeing war and tyranny. It is a timely and personal reminder from writer/ director Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir – 2008).
The plot meanders somewhat between an assumption that people haven’t read Anne Frank (which is plausible) to relating it to modern populist times. The excerpts of the diary dramatized, are not always the ones that make the strongest political point to support Folman’s story. It really takes a while to decide whether the film is about the past or present and when it does, near the end, the bridge is warm and clear. Folman and his family are part of this story and this probably has driven the sentiment and intent of the film.
What do we fail to remember and remind ourselves of, despite the recent lessons of history? Does the ethnicity of those persecuted today dominate our response, as the persecution of Anne through her beliefs disadvantaged her then? Folman and Frank challenge us.
However, the somewhat rambling storyline does not lead us to a moral solution, expected of a people who witnessed two World Wars in the last century. Has Folman given up on appealing to our informed better nature? Instead, perhaps as a commentary on our more materialistic concerns, he opts for a barter at the end. Though it achieves the required result, it is not morally enduring or satisfactory. It is not reliable.
Anne Frank is a shining example of the frequently underestimated and unacknowledged capacity of being young, strong and full of hope at times of adversity. The telling of this tale through her imaginary friend ‘Kitty’ is a sentimental vehicle that will resonate with children and teenagers. Frank’s capability remains an important teacher today in the dialogue of youthful disempowerment, insisted upon by so many over-protective adults. This is a film for adults too. They need to be reminded. Folman knows the lesson well.