Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 2 min.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
Teens might enjoy this feature length documentary on Anne Frank, as they have probably read her Diary in school. We should be glad that Jon Blair, whose documentary on Oskar Schindler you may have seen on television several years ago, was asked to prepare this film in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Anne Frank’s death. With the full cooperation of the staff of Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and numerous archivists and eyewitnesses, Mr. Blair has created a monument to the memory of Anne, her family, and the brave Miep Gies that is more durable than anything in marble or bronze.
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, appropriate excerpts from Anne’s Diary are read by Glenn Close. We are shown, through photos and film, the Franks’ home in Frankfurt where, as assimilated Jews, the Franks lived a happy and prosperous life, until in 1931 they had to move from their apartment because their landlord was a Nazi. With the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the ruin of the family bank, the family leaves Germany, some of the Franks finding refuge in Switzerland, and the Otto Franks in Amsterdam, where the father sets up a small business that prospers. Despite the rise of a Dutch Nazi party, the Franks, along with a large number of fellow Jews, are well received by the Dutch. And then the German Nazis march in, and the restrictions of the freedom of the Jews increase. Realizing what is about to happen, Otto Frank secretly prepares rooms in the annex behind his business offices. When Margo receives orders to report to a camp, the family leaves a false trail to indicate that they have fled to Switzerland, and then goes into hiding with the family of Otto’s business associate Herman van Pels, and later take in a Jewish dentist.
Although we might be familiar, thanks to the Diary, with many of the events of their two years in hiding, we learn much more from Miep and other eyewitnesses. This includes a brief interview with Peter Pfeffer. Unknown to Anne, the nemesis of her life, Fritz Pfeffer, had sent his young son abroad to escape the Germans. Peter, upset by the Anne’s harsh portrayal of his father, recalls him as an avid sportsman who was very kind to himself. Thus, we are reminded that our only picture of the methodical man was that painted by a free-spirited young teenager. Like most teenagers, Anne too can be cruel in her assessment of adults.
We also learn that Anne was inspired by a BBC broadcast to go back and rewrite much of her original Diary. A Dutch official had said that the government would like to collect wartime diaries to preserve a record of life under the Nazi occupation. Thus even then, Anne was looking forward to the publication of her observations. Sadly, Anne herself was not to see her book in print. Someone, a thief, it is theorized having informed on the families, the result being that on August 4, the Gestapo breaks into the hiding place and leads the refugees away. Miep Gies recounts her horror when a pistol-packing Austrian Nazi appears and upbraids her, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, helping Jewish baggage? You deserve the worst punishment, and you know what that is.”
Despite this, Miep boldly goes to Gestapo headquarters and tries to secure the release of her charges. The officials are unrelenting, and after four days in the cellar, the refugees are sent off to Westerbork transit camp in northern Holland. We even see some footage from the camp of Jews exercising and performing in a cabaret, shot for the camp commandment fifty years earlier. Through various eyewitness accounts we learn of the last days of the Frank family, of the men and women separated, of the final bonding between Mrs. Frank and her daughters, — in fact, Mrs. Frank and Margot might have survived with their reassignment to a different camp, but neither would leave behind the sick Anne — and of the terrible circumstances of the sisters’ final days – Anne and Margot had the misfortune of being assigned a bunk by the door, where the icy wind caught them during its frequent opening and shutting.
The film does not end with death, however, but with the wonderful story of Anne’s Diary. After his release and recovery from the concentration camp, Otto Frank returns to Amsterdam in search of news of his family. During the looting of the annex, the Nazis had dumped the Diary on the floor, where Miep found and hid it. Until Mr. Frank learned that the women had perished, Miep kept the Diary secret, not wanting to violate any of Anne’s secret thoughts (Miep herself did not read it). In simple, but moving words the eyewitness who had been in the same camp as the Frank daughters tells of Otto’s visit to her and her revealing the fate of his loved ones. We learn of the publishing odyssey, and even of the Neo-Nazis’ attack on its authenticity.
The last scene is especially moving, for it contains the only known moving picture of Anne. Incredibly, a home movie of a wedding part has been unearthed. As the cameraman pans upward to show the neighbors watching the scene there, looking down at the bridal couple, is dark haired Anne. The filmmaker chose this passage to go with this almost magic moment:
Wednesday, April 5, 1944
My dearest Kitty,
I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living, even after my death. And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift which I can use to develop and to express all that is inside of me.”
Anne, unknowingly, received her wish. And we too are grateful to God that her written expression “of all that is inside of me” was almost miraculously preserved, and has been celebrated so movingly in this film.
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