Anne Frank Remembered
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
March 23, 1996
Because Anne Frank died so needlessly at the hands of the Nazis and because most of what is known about her comes from a sanitized edition of her diary, she is easy to deify. Documentary filmmaker Jon Blair (whose previous efforts include Schindler) demystifies her but finds a way to make her actual life as engrossing as the legend.
In Anne Frank Remembered, Blair traces Anne’s path and her foibles in almost microscopic detail. In fact, the testimony that emerges from some of her surviving playmates makes her seem almost bratty. In addition, she may not have been fair to her roommate in hiding, a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer. Anne, who resented losing her space to the pedantic middle-aged man, called him Dr. Dussel (the Dutch word for idiot) in her writings. Blair presents a brief history on Pfeffer, which indicates he may have been a little more courageous and compassionate than the diary would have us believe.
While Anne Frank Remembered avoids putting her on a pedestal, it still leaves us with much to admire about her. Blair’s camera takes us to the original locations, including the attic where she and the others hid. By actually showing the lodgings, Blair gives you a sense of the challenges that Anne and her family faced. Blair even shoots close-ups of the actual diary to augment Glenn Close’s reading. This combination gives Anne’s words an authenticity and immediacy that reading excerpts in class simply doesn’t have. Because Blair makes Anne’s vision and her humanity more real, her loss seems even greater than if she had remained the kind of saint that some people hang from their rear view mirrors.
While he’s giving us a clearer picture of Anne, Blair gives us another hero to root for when he introduces us to Miep Gies. Gies risked her life to help hide and feed the Franks. In fact, Anne’s diary might have lost or destroyed by the Nazis if Gies hadn’t kept it after Anne and the other had been captured. On-camera Gies has an unassuming charm that makes her bravery seem even more remarkable. The film’s most moving scene comes when Peter Pfeffer (Fritz’s son) comes to meet her so he can personally thank her for protecting his father.
Blair loses some of his focus near the end. While the number of details he digs up is awe-inspiring, the abundance weighs down the film in a couple of places. Blair’s decision to use celebrity voices is a mixed blessing. While Kenneth Branagh’s narration is sensitive and unobtrusive, Blair might have done better to enlist a teenage actress to read from Anne’s diary. While Close reads beautifully, a younger actress would have given the film an even stronger sense of authenticity.
Nonetheless, Blair has taken Anne’s story and demonstrated its impact with freshness and vigor. You may find yourself crying, both for the fact that Anne Frank was denied a chance to live and for how she was able to give so many insights and so much hope on a few short pages (PG). Rating: 8.
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