THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
How can one review the story of Anne Frank? Her story is familiar to billions: In
July, 1942 her family went into hiding in the attic of her father's business in order to
avoid deportation by the Nazis from their home in Amsterdam. For the next two
years Anne kept a diary that detailed life in the attic with seven other Jews, terrified,
confused, and cramped. But it also detailed the mind of a
real girl, filled with hopes, dreams, and love. In August of 1944 the location of
Anne's hiding spot was betrayed and she, along with her parents, sister, and four
others, were taken to a Nazi camp. From there they were split up, broken, and
murdered, until only Anne's father, Otto Frank survived. Anne's diary has become an
invaluable tool in the teaching of tolerance and is the most read non-fiction book in
Anne's story has been told many times on film, stage, and page. Buena Vista's
TV movie version is without a doubt one of the most moving, devastating portrayals
of this period in history ever committed to film. The film takes Melissa Muller's
biography of Anne as its source, rather than the diary, so her entire story can be told.
Certain liberties may have been taken to ease the storytelling process, but the
underlying truth is very much present.
The film, at over three hours, spends a good deal of time detailing Anne's personality
and making her real. She is very smart and kind, but she is also flirty, impatient,
precocious, and naive. The fleshing
out of her character makes the drama of what follows that much more horrible.
Statements that might have been played
as proclamations of foreshadowing are given off-hand treatment that hurts all the more with the knowledge of what's to come.
From the opening moments of Anne's
day-dreaming through to the inconceivably tragic ending Anne Frank is as
sorrowful and heart-breaking as any
film I've ever seen. The only possible reaction is to cry.
The entire cast gives great performances. Ben Kingsley is excellent as Otto Frank.
He projects a mixture of strictness, kindness, and authority. Tatjana Blacher is the
fragile Edith Frank, Anne's mother. Brenda Blethyn is virtually unrecognizable as
Auguste Van Pels, one of the others hiding in the attic with the Franks.
The group in the attic is a motley assortment and each actor plays their character
with a gruff individuality that makes the claustrophobic bickering believable. Lili
Taylor plays Miep Gies, one of the outside helpers who brought food to the Franks.
very different role for Taylor.
Of course the whole film revolves around Anne and Hannah Taylor-Gordon gives
astonishing performance, especially for a 14 year old. She is so moving and real
that she carries the enormous weight of this tremendous film, and of the world
it depicts, on her slender shoulders. This is a monumental performance of complexity
and depth. She is flirty and sweet, precocious and temperamental, mind-numbingly
optimistic. During the film's final act her degradation is so shocking and disturbing
defies reason. With an actress like Taylor-Gordon in the role there is no way
anyone can finish this film
without a mind full of thoughts and conflicts.
Since the film was created by a branch of the Disney empire, part of its market is
bound to include children. Make no mistake about it, though, Anne Frank
is a harrowing experience. Still, the quality of this production is so high that it would
really be a good thing for families with children old enough to handle the experience to own. The running time
and the need to stop the film and discuss what's happening makes this a disc best
in installments. Still, with much of the film taking place from the perspective of a
young girl, younger viewers should find themselves able to connect. Anne is
a thoroughly modern girl and most modern viewers will see a little bit of themselves
in her. That she could end up where she did only serves as a reminder of what
could happen to any of us.
The full-screen video is fine. The cinematography uses several effective techniques
(like black-and-white documentary-like segments and a decreasing color palette
throughout) without drawing attention to itself.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is not great. There are times when the recording is a little
unclear. The score, while a little reminiscent of John Williams' Schindler's List
score, is effective. English subtitles are available.
Only a trailer for South Pacific, another TV movie, is included. Certainly some supplemental information on Anne Frank might have been worthwhile but its absence doesn't detract from the main feature.
Much as "The Diary of Anne Frank" is required reading, this version of her life
deserves to be seen. It achieves a level of emotion that is rare in films today. The
perspective provided by Anne is crucial to the importance of the story and is what
makes it so moving and so provocative. After all, as the film's final text reminds us, her story is only one of millions.
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.
E-mail Gil at firstname.lastname@example.org