ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED (UK, 1995) ****
Awards: Oscar winner in 1996; Jury Prize at the 1995 Hamptons Festival; Gold Plaque at Chicago International Film Festival; Audience Award at the International Documentary Festival, Amsterdam.
I have just finished watching this long documentary, on tape. I am stunned, shaken up and grateful that I can write on it rather than discuss it verbally.
In the classic "Hiroshima, mon Amour," a French woman, an extra in a "Ban the Bomb" movie being shot, and a local Japanese architect, have a touching brief encounter. She tells him of her visits to the martyr city: "I have seen everything in Hiroshima." He replies: "No, you saw nothing in Hiroshima."
Some of us may think that they've read or seen everything about the Holocaust and Anne Frank, This film proves we have seen nothing. The story is a neverending one. Something new discovered every day. As one of the participants in the documentary says of the long, nightmarish train journey to a concentration camp: "You refuse reality. After a while imagination stops."
"Anne Frank Remembered" was made principally by the man who was given the 1994 British Academy award for his documentary "Schindler." Jon Blair has done a terrific job in combining war and remembrance, the portrait of Anne and the horrors of the Nazis, old and sadly familiar archival footage and much that was unfamiliar or newly found. He and his staff interweave with superb skill and balance past and present, interviews with surviving friends of the Frank family.
The film even transcends personal tragedy and unspeakable mass crimes during World War II. It stands for all types of man's inhumanity to man fostered by prejudice, racial, ethnic, religious discrimination.
At the center of this work is 80-plus Miep Gies, a gentle, gentile lady who in the 1940s worked for Otto Frank. (Anne's father had a small pectin-making business in Amsterdam). While the Franks were in hiding, she was their contact with the outside, their purveyor of food, necessities and news. Miep is a marvelous woman whom one would never call "an old lady." Her faculties are intact, her mind lucid, her intelligence high, her manner eloquent yet straightforward. Miep is also the person who found and saved for years the diary of Anne Frank.
The movie does not push the pedal on pathos or sentiment. It doesn't have to. Places, events and people speak for themselves. Miep is not the only witness. She shares the screen with other, equally unrhetorical yet quite sophisticated friends of Anne and her folks.
They take up a big chunk of time, yet they're always effective as they speak calmly, go to the end of what they're saying and do not produce sound bites.
You never have the impression of watching "talking heads." This is reinforced by the interviewer, present, unseen and unobtrusive. Exceptionally he is heard asking a question, always brief and to the point. He never controls or manipulates his subjects, never puts words in their mouth.
The film does start with background information that the average person does not know perhaps, especially when we refer to the Franks as Dutch Jews. The Franks were an old, distinguished family of Germans who, like countless others, happened to be Jewish, cultured, totally assimilated, patriotic, with relatives who had fought for Germany in WWI. Their children, first Margot then Anna (as they called her) were born in Frankfurt.
Unlike many other Germans, Otto Frank saw the handwriting on the wall. With his wife and children he left Germany for Holland in 1933, as soon as Hitler was given dictatorial powers. They were later joined by more Jews, many of them erstywhile personalities in Germany, like a former Minister for the Press.
Emigrating very early, Mr. Frank was wise. But later, when one was sure of the defeat of Germany and optimism set in, it was not so smart to hide instead of fleeing, assuming this were possible. This is perhaps the only miscalculation by Otto Frank, who was a superb, sensitive, devoted husband and father, an all-around superior human being, and the sole survivor of the four Franks.
There was, of course, the trust that Jews put in the Dutch, a justified confidence. While, after the occupation of Holland, some Dutch Nazi groups sprouted up, the great majority of the population were protective of "their" Jews -- witness the steady help to the Franks. Only one other country can claim the same massive, heartfelt assistance to Jews: Denmark.
Anne is not sentimentalized or idealized. We hear that she was a naughty, even impertinent child. The mother of a friend used to say "God knows everything...Anne knows everything better". In hiding, she was not always easy to be with. She wrote of her contempt for her mother and her dislike of 54-year old dentist Fritz Pfeffer. (He was the eight person to go to the hideout, after Otto's associate Hermann van Pels, his wife and son).
"Anne Frank" is a succession of gripping moments, scenes and sequences, done with restraint and taste (including Branagh's narration), which make it all the more devastating. A must-see film, above all for those young and youngish who, in this information age, know so pathetically little of history.