Where is Anne Frank (Melbourne International Film Festival) – Film Review

Where is Anne Frank is an animated drama following historical events with a fictionalised fantasy twist.

Following the journey of ‘Kitty‘ (voiced by Ruby Stokes) the imaginary friend of Anne Frank (here voiced by Emily Carey), wrote her famous diary to as a tactic not to be writing to herself. Kitty through magical means, comes to life in the modern era unaware of what has happened to Anne since her final diary entry.

Flashing backwards and forwards though the decades, we are presented with the heartbreaking story of Anne‘s confinement as well as Kitty‘s adventure throughout modern day as she experiences it in the face of Anne‘s legacy. This is the latest film by Israeli born filmmaker Ari Folman with a creative use of animation in order to tell a documentary like story.

The idea of Kitty being the main character was an inspired choice as a way to both introduce us to Anne Frank who we all know, but to also reflect on what Anne Frank‘s legacy means to us today. The ravages of time, censorship and endless retelling of history have inevitably led to a bastardisation of the facts and Folman does not shy away from saying that despite honouring Anne Frank by naming schools, streets, theatres and hospitals after her, along the way the humanity and the soul of this young girl might be overlooked.

Not to mention, turning the annex in which Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for years into a tourist attraction, though done in the best of intentions, is meaningless if nothing is truly learned from the experience in how we conduct ourselves today.

The animation throughout the film is soulful and stunning. Likewise, the mixing of 2D with 3D characters and environments blended in a flowing way and never took me out of the movie. There was always something real about the characters and how they were presented, which couldn’t have been achieved with a live action experience.

Both Stokes and Carey in their respective roles as Kitty and Anne are amazing. Two different actresses essentially playing the voice of the same true-life figure worked much better than I believed it could have. Again, simply dressing up modern day actors in period clothing would not have achieved the same level of emotional authenticity this film achieved using animation. There were times I felt that maybe having English speaking actors was a little bit anachronistic, however, years of ‘Hollywoodised’ historical films made this a non-issue. Ironically, the only voice which felt out of place was perhaps that of Ari Folman himself in his cameo voice role as a police officer Kitty interacts with in the modern timeline.

I feel that Where is Anne Frank achieved something brave by essentially telling us that in viewing Anne Frank as a historical figure and not seeing her as a true person, we were like tourists stomping through her bedroom. Everyone knows what happened to Anne, however, witnessing a depiction of this beautiful girl with such a big heart and imagination slowly losing that spark in her confinement was a terrible thing to see.

Through Kitty‘s eyes we see not so much the exact details of what happened or who betrayed the Franks, but her learning that her friend ended the same way as millions of other Jewish children is absolutely heartbreaking.

I did find Ari Folman‘s insistence that we need to see Anne as a person and not simply a concept an apt conclusion. Unfortunately, I believe he hurts the message by reconceptualising everything he achieves and attempting to compare her story and that of the entire holocaust itself to current day immigration issues in Europe. While Folman pulls back from comparing immigration officials to actual Nazis (as they alone are depicted in a stylised demonic way in the past timeline, emphasising a lack of humanity), the entire conflation between the two comes out left of field and may be considered quite problematic in how lightly it takes on both issues. While I feel Ari Folman betrays his own achievements in the film’s final moments, everything up until then was a uniquely special film enhanced by the animation style.

Where is Anne Frank is a beautiful yet heartbreaking portrait of a young woman who lost her life like many others during one of the darkest times in human history.

Where is Anne Frank is screening in Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.
For more information and ticketing visit: https://miff.com.au/program/film/where-is-anne-frank

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