Sunday, March 10, 2024

NYCIFF ’24: Where is Anne Frank

If you want to be depressed, search X/Twitter for “Anne Frank” and “ballpoint pen.” Then report everything that comes back for “violent event denial,” because attempts to question the legitimacy of Anne Frank’s diary are just another manifestation of Holocaust denial. A film about Frank should not necessarily be timely, but in today’s climate, it is. Sadly, Ari Folman’s latest animated feature takes on even greater significance, post-10/7 than when it first started screening. Folman re-introduces Frank to viewers from a different perspective, that of Kitty, her imaginary friend, in Where is Anne Frank (produced with the cooperation of the Anne Frank Fonds), which screens during the 2024 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Like most intelligent pre-teens, Frank had an active imagination. She created Kitty to serve as her muse in many of her diary entries. In a manner worthy of superhero origin stories, Kitty will come alive when lightning breaks through a window, striking the original diary displayed in the Anne Frank Museum. She recognizes the building, but since she only knows what Frank told her, Kitty has no idea what happened to her friend or the other residents of the famous attic.

Initially, she huddles in the corner, invisible, as zombie tourists shuffle in and out. However, Kitty is shocked when Peter, a Dickensian pick-pocket starts talking to her. As she approaches the diary, she becomes more visible to others. Or something like that. Frankly, the rules of who can see her and when are vague and inconsistently applied. Initially, this feels like a credibility issue. However, as we watch the confused Kitty struggle with the unpredictability of her new existence, it becomes another unlikely source of sympathy for her. Regardless, Kitty will search all the landmarks of Amsterdam that bear Anne Frank’s name to learn the fate of her late friend.

Through flashbacks, Folman visits many of the incidents recorded in Frank’s diary, but Kitty’s perspective gives them a fresh twist. It is sort of like seeing events referenced in Virginia Woolf’s
The Waves from Percival’s perspective, or Charlie’s Angels from that of Charlie Townsend, depending on your preference for high or low culture.

One aspect that lands much differently post-10/7 is the way Kitty befriends and champions a squatter community of Malian immigrants. Folman’s film reminds us of the Jewish people’s history of progressive humanism. Yet, the world did not reciprocate their compassion after Hamas’s mass-murder, gang rapes, and abductions. Quite the contrary.

Eventually, Kitty will learn the truth about Frank’s fate. It is devastated, but Folman handles it in a way that will accessible and emotionally suitable for younger viewers. In fact, the animation is often visually striking, particularly his sinister, expressionistic renderings of the National Socialists.

Where is Anne Frank
is exactly the kind of film that will challenge way out-of-date prejudices against animation as a vehicle for serious filmmaking. It is as serious as it gets and profoundly sad. Yet, it is also acutely powerful. It is Folman’s best film yet, even better than the wildly cool but somewhat frustratingly uneven The Congress. Very highly recommended, Where is Anne Frank screens today (3/10) and next Sunday (3/17) as part of this year’s NYICFF.