Weaving documentary with a performance (from none other than Dame Helen Mirren), this exploration of the famous teenage diary writer and her contemporaries caught up in the Holocaust is undoubtedly moving.
Mirren narrates passages from Anne (whom she insists on calling “An-neh” throughout) while seated at a desk in a replica of her annex room. Meanwhile, the film visits several female Holocaust survivors to hear their stories of being deported to the camps as teenagers and how they survived. We hear from French, Italian, Czech and Polish voices, and sometimes from their families and grandchildren for whom the story of their grandmother still plays a big part in their identity today – just as Anne’s story still chimes with so many readers around the world.
In cinemas to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan 27), this film features a teenager travelling around Europe taking selfies and writing hashtags to Anne Frank, a somewhat theatrical and distracting device which nevertheless does eventually pay off.
But the film is very powerful in other places, the survivors painfully recalling how the Nazis rounded up families and how locals aided the capture of the Jews. It’s a bit odd, given the well-known fact that Frank and her family were hidden, that there aren’t more incidents of kindness from non-Jews in offering shelter, for example.
Still, the photos and footage used are harrowing and illustrative, as is the element of history and memory, with shots from the current museums and memorials that mark the sites of the camps including Auschwitz, Belsen and Therezin. I didn’t know the full story of Therezin and how the Nazis used it for propaganda, nor the story of the girl who grazed her sheep there and a photo of her that became famous.
I was amazed, too, by the photographs of Anne, taken by her father Otto, and of some clips of the lively young Anne on her Amsterdam balcony, spotted in the home movie of a neighbour’s wedding. In this context and with Mirren’s firm narration, the images have an unnerving power and take on a deeper resonance.
They humanise Anne and the other survivors whose armchairs, family photos and memories we see and whose stories we listen to. This film and this Holocaust Memorial Day mark 75 years after Auschwitz, where Anne Frank was imprisoned before her death, aged 15, at Bergen Belsen in 1945, so tantalisingly close to the end of the war. But her story – and those parallel to it in this beautiful film – also mark an ultimate victory over the Nazi programme.
Hitler planned to dehumanise Jews so that their mass extermination would not count, would not be a problem for any soldiers with a conscience. And yet this film’s humanity shines through, full beam.