The martyred teenager Anne Frank has been memorialized by playwrights, filmmakers and historians, and her famous diary, perhaps the most extraordinary single document of the Holocaust, has sold 25 million copies since 1947 and has been translated into 54 languages.
But Jon Blair's poignant Anne Frank Remembered, which just won an Academy Award as 1995's best documentary, is one of the few works in the half-century since Anne's death that fill in the gaps about the Frank family, their two-year confinement in the secret annex at Prinsengracht 263 and the tragic end to which they came. Fifty-two years after the Franks were betrayed by an anonymous informer, we see the faces and hear the voices of Anne's remaining childhood friends, neighbors, a handful of concentration camp survivors and Anne's last living relative, a first cousin named Berndt Elias. A family friend remembers the bright, willful girl as "just what you would call naughty," and a former Dutch resistance fighter recalls the morning the eight captured Jews from the annex were put aboard a Nazi train bound for the Westerbork transit camp in northern Holland. "The houses of the city were bathed in gold," the witness tells us, "as they were [sent off] to meet the unknown." Anne Frank's fate was to be aboard the very last train from Westerbork to Auschwitz, then to die from typhus in February or March 1945 after being transferred to Bergen-Belsen.
The film's personal testimony, particularly that of Miep Gies, the longtime Frank office employee who risked her life to protect Anne and the others in their hiding place, revives powerful emotions, while some other new materials--family photographs, a cache of letters discovered in 1994, and a brief glimpse of Anne at an upper window that is probably the only motion-picture footage of the girl who became "Hitler's most famous victim"--shed new light on a tragedy the world has no right to forget. We learn, for instance, how Otto Frank, who managed to survive Auschwitz, was told of his two daughters' deaths by Janny Brandes-Brillesliiper, who was incarcerated with the Frank sisters at Bergen-Belsen. There is also a tremendously moving scene in which Peter Pepper, the late son of Fritz Pfeffer, the dentist who shared Anne's room in the annex and, in her diary, became the target of her adolescent discomfort, rehabilitates his father's reputation and thanks Miep Gies for her wartime sacrifice.
First broadcast on television, Anne Frank Remembered declines to show off its technique, which is just as well, but Blair (who made an earlier documentary about the now-famous Oskar Schindler) does employ one haunting device: Filming in the barren annex itself, he superimposes images of what the rooms looked like before the Germans burst in, and the photographed faces of the former occupants float through the frame with ghostly certainty. Kenneth Branagh's narration is solemn when it should be and impassioned when called for, but the choice of Glenn Close, a mature woman, to read the diary excerpts is a bit startling: Is Anne Frank not still a child, and a tragic emblem of youthful potential crushed by evil?
Minor complaint. This extraordinary documentary is essential viewing.--Gallo
Anne Frank Remembered. Written, produced and directed by Jon Blair. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Diary excerpts read by Glenn Close.