WHERE IS ANNE FRANK (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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We are told in Where is Anne Frank’s prologue that writer/director Ari Folman’s parents were sent to Auschwitz the same week as famed diarist Anne Frank. That was part of the inspiration for this animated feature examining her life from the perspective of Kitty, the imaginary friend Anne chose as recipient of her feelings and experiences in her diary. Kitty magically materializes in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, innocent of what happened to her dear friend. She must seek out the answers to her whereabouts. In that way, Folman sets up a clever and insightful way of both explaining the Holocaust to young viewers, and considering in what ways we are currently in danger of repeating history.

When Kitty appears in modern day Amsterdam, she has no idea 75 years have gone by. Taking the diary, she embarks on a quest to find Anne, and does so with the help of Peter, a pickpocket and undocumented refugee who has taken responsibility for others in similar circumstances at a secret shelter. She follows the diary through to Anne’s tragic death in the camps. It is with Peter’s support that she then shines a light on the plight of refugee children, inspiring viewers young and old by pointing to their inclusion and acceptance as a mission worthy of Anne Frank’s courage and sacrifice.

The creation and release of this animated feature sprang out of a desire by the Anne Frank Foundation to teach the younger generation about dangerous nationalism and narrow hateful beliefs that led to the Holocaust. They asked Folman to write a script and direct a film which expanded on Anne’s diary, and put it into context of the growing discrimination, bigotry, and anti-semitism happening around the world. The filmmakers certainly achieve their aim in the finished product, as Where is Anne Frank is uniquely suited to both entertain and educate children about a very sensitive subject, without scaring them or scarring them with the sort of imagery one would see in a live action feature. Though the film does confront what happened to Jewish people during the Holocaust, the audience is never shown the violence or death in the camps in any literal way. it does, however, consider the idea of complicity, both then and now. If there are children of war at risk of ethnic cleansing or extermination, shouldn’t countries around the world take note and welcome them to safety? Kitty becomes a bridge between Anne’s time and today, as an activist standing for refugee children fleeing war zones.

Where is Anne Frank was animated using traditional drawings placed against images of real scenery recorded by cameras. It has a flowing visual style that makes this technique appealing to a wide range of viewers, expanding the reach for the film’s messages. It is clear, though, that the target audience is not adults but younger children, who may not know about the Holocaust or about the massive number of at-risk refugees in need of assistance. This film aspires, clearly, to inspire activism and feelings of empathy in the young people who watch it. As to how adults will experience the movie, Where is Anne Frank may come off as didactic or preachy, and not meant for them, which goes back to limiting the film’s potential viewership.

It’s hard for any of us to remember back to before we knew about the Holocaust and to a time when we were more innocent of the harm one group of people can inflict on another. Folman, who comes from a family of survivors, has made a film that reveals some of the horrors of our collective world history, but also asks audiences to consider how they can respond more proactively to children currently experiencing horrors of their own. Anne Frank may be famous, but the answer to the question ‘where is Anne Frank?’ is that she is everywhere refugee children are in danger around the world. That’s a message worth sending out.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.