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Anne Frank Remembered

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Anne Frank Remembered

Starring: Glenn Close, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Jon Blair
Rated: PG
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: February 1996
Genre: Documentary

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED is a fresh telling of the tragic life of Anne Frank. It is a documentary where Anne's friends are interviewed and these interviews are beautifully interwoven by the editor Karen Steininger with moving and still images of Anne's era along with videos of the attic where she and seven others hid. This is not a sentimental film neither is it ever manipulative. It records the history in a stark, but effective and factual retelling.

Most films about Anne Frank have been entitled THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and center on the time of the diary with her as the focus. In ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED, the brilliant new director, writer, and producer Jon Blair chooses to consider the totality of her life from her father's marriage to after her death, and he also dwells more on the other people ensconced with her. In this more complete rendition, Anne comes alive as much more human and her death even more tragic. The story is told chronologically, and there is as much time devoted to the periods before and after the diary as to the diary period itself.

The great Shakespearean actor and director Kenneth Branagh does the narration. He delivers his lines with little emotion, but much impact. He starts by telling the audience that, "She is perhaps Hitler's best known victim."

Anne's father Otto comes to life in the film both as a person and literally since they show him being interviewed in 1979 before his death the following year. He is a German Jew who left for the purported safety of Holland since after all Germany did not invade Holland in WW I. He was a world traveler and even worked at Macy's in New York for a while. He was a model employer and an excellent father who later asked one of his fellow concentration camp victims to call him Papa Frank since he had a strong need to be a papa even though his real family was not with him and might, indeed, even be dead. As good a father as he was, he admits at the end that, "I only got to know my daughter really through the diary." This is one of many passages in the film that speaks to all of us today. Do we really know our kids?

When the Nazis demanded that every Jew between 15 and 40 go to the labor camps, the Frank family went into hiding in the attic above the family store. Otto's four employees risked their lives keeping them hidden and bringing them food, supplies, and even school books regularly. They even turned record profits and thereby helped to keep the supplies coming.

Anne comes alive in the film as a energetic girl who was somewhat of the class clown. She is described as a "saucy girl" by one of her classmates. She wanted so bad to make something of her life. She had plays complete with tickets that she typed up. Her diary tells of the imaginary life she has with her cousin living in Switzerland as well as her real life being caged up like a bird in the attic. Her diary is read lovingly by Glenn Close. Anne confides in one section that, "They keep telling me I should talk less and mind my own business, but I seemed doomed to failure."

The movie describes the real problems and joys she has with the people housed in close confinement with her, especially the mother she did not like, her on again/off again boyfriend Peter van Pels, and the 54 year old stern dentist Fritz Pfeffer whom she loathed but had to share a bedroom. As the narrator says, "The relationship between the 54 year old disciplinarian and the free spirited teen was inevitably stormy." Anne says of her mother, "I'm the opposite of my mother, and we clash. I have to be my own mother." We learn that her mother suffered from severe problems of depression and had trouble coping with her terrible situation.

The film gives insights into many of the other members of the household in hiding. Pfeffer's son Peter was safe in London during the war. We learn from him in an interview that his father was a sportsman used to riding horses and being in the outdoors so being confined like that brought out the worst in him. In one of the more moving scenes of the show, Peter, for the first time, meets Miep Gies who was one of the people in the shop who hid and helped his father.

Eventually things begin to look up with the invasion of Europe by the Allies. Anne is elated and tells her diary, "Where there is hope, there is life." Her hopes were short lived. Someone told the Germans where they were hiding, and all eight of them as well as the two male members of Otto's staff were send to concentration camps.

The movie then shifts from interviews with people who knew or helped them in Amsterdam to people who were with them in the horrors of the camps. These are horrors that the world needs to hear again and again. They were sent to the camps packed into cattle cars for days where they could not move and had to go to the bathroom right where they stood. Although this lasted for three days, they had no idea how long they would be in the cars and became dazed and confused. When they got to the camps, one man remarked that he truly thought he had died, and this was hell. One half of the occupants of the cattle cars were gassed immediately, but amazingly most of those who had hidden in the Frank attic lived until just a few weeks to a few days before their camp's liberation. Only Otto survived. Another tragic interview is of the woman who had to tell Otto that his entire family had been killed.

The initial publication of Anne's diary had little impact, but eventually its fame grew, and it was translated into hundreds of languages and made into a play and then into many different movies, the first and most famous movie version being George Stevens's 1959 one. Because of this fame, Gies says, "Otto came to symbolize the perfect father that everyone craves." The house where they hid and to which I made a moving pilgrimage one snowy and freezing cold winter day in 1985, is visited by over a half million visitors a year. There is actually little to see there and yet, no one will leave the place untouched.

As Gies puts it, "The past go always with you your whole life" or as Anne says in her diary, "I want to go on living even after death." This movie will stay with me as it will anyone lucky enough to see it. A brilliant piece of cinematic art, and one incredible story. This review has only barely touched the surface of all that is revealed in the film. Even if you think you know it all, this film will be a revelation to you.

ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED runs a fast 2:02, and I would not want a minute of it cut. Most of the show is in English, but there is a little Dutch and German with English subtitles. The film is rated PG because of the horrors it discusses. There is little of the emaciated or dying people in concentration camp scenes so I think there is not much visually to shock young viewers. Any kid old enough to consider the subject matter could see the film, and my guess is that means anyone over 8. I give this film my strongest recommendation possible, and I believe the world would be a better place if everyone saw it. I give it **** for being a perfect movie.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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