Anne Frank Reanimated at Cannes

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The animated Anne Frank in the new movie 'Where is Anne Frank.'
The animated Anne Frank in the new movie 'Where is Anne Frank.'Credit: Animation Director: Yoni Goodman / Designer: Lena Guberman / Purple Whale Films

CANNES, France – The Cannes Film Festival has been running for almost a week and so far have been no super-spreader events. That’s something of a miracle, even though the festival organizers adopted strict health protocols this year, requiring the unvaccinated as well as vaccinated guests who aren’t from European Union states to be tested every 48 hours.

The festival’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, did announce that this year there would be no French kissing on the red carpet (in the sense of a French peck on the cheek), and that he would be using fist bumps in place of handshakes. But Frémaux was ultimately unable to resist the temptation, and on the red carpet he can be seen shaking hands, hugging and cuddling.

It was the case ahead of the premiere of Ari Folman’s film “Where is Anne Frank.” The Israeli director, whose two earlier films also screened at the French festival, is an old acquaintance of Frémaux’s and there were plenty of clasped hands and hugs all around

Inside the hall, about a minute after Folman’s latest animated film began, someone in the audience collapsed and fainted. It wasn’t the coronavirus, but an urgent cry of “Is there a doctor in the house?!” split the silence and caused everyone to leap to their feet.

The screening was halted, the lights were turned on, and everyone waited. Fortunately, the incident ended well and the screening was restarted from the beginning.

From het achterhuis to Cannes: A scene from "Where is Anne Frank."Credit: Animation Director: Yoni Goodman / Designer: Lena Guberman / Purple Whale Films

“Where is Anne Frank” (the title is without a question mark) is an ambitious project that Folman spent eight years laboring over. After “Waltz with Bashir” (2008) and “The Congress” (2013), he decided to accept a proposal from the Anne Frank Fonds to adapt the German-Dutch teenage girl’s story into a full-length animated film.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Folman said that at first he wasn’t too thrilled by the idea, since there were already so many adaptations of the teenager’s diary that the character had become too iconic. But then he told his mother about the proposal, and she said: “Look, we never interfered in your choices, but if you don’t take this project, I will die over the weekend, you can come and collect my body on Sunday. But if you do it, I will stay around until the premiere.” “So this is probably one reason why it took us so long!” Folman joked.  

The film’s opening scene is set in Amsterdam, outside the Anne Frank House – the location where she hid for two years with her family and which was turned into a museum that has long been one of the city’s main tourism attractions.

A long line of people winds down the street outside, despite the rain and stormy weather. A nearby tent erected by African refugees is carried off in the wind, leaving them homeless. Inside the museum, meanwhile, the glass case that protects Anne’s diary mysteriously shatters and the ink in which the letters and words were written more than 70 years ago suddenly comes to life.

It floats out of the book and, in a gorgeous piece of animation, coalesces into the character of Kitty – the imaginary friend to whom Anne addressed the entries in her diary.

Director Ari Folman at the Cannes Film Festival.Credit: CHRISTOPHE SIMON - AFP

Kitty is the film’s heroine and when she comes to life, she sets out to find out what became of her friend. A boy she meets in a museum volunteers to aid her in her quest, but they soon discover that Kitty can only exist close to the diary, close to the words that created her. Whenever she gets too far from it, she starts to evaporate and disappear. The pair decide to steal the diary so they can embark on their journey, and this of course gets all the Dutch security forces on their tail.

Meanwhile, flashbacks to the past bring Kitty together with Anne, and present to viewers the girl who wrote the famous diary, while the boy accompanying Kitty on her present-day search introduces her to the uprooted and homeless refugees who live next to the museum.

Folman has succeeded in creating an original adaptation of an extremely familiar story, and many parts of the film are overflowing with imagination that relies on magnificent animation (Yoni Goodman, who also worked with Folman on “Waltz with Bashir” and “The Congress,” was the chief animator).

Standout scenes include one where Kitty rises like a phoenix out of the ink in the diary and evaporates as she moves away from it; a chilling scene in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which, in a nod to Anne Frank’s fondness for Greek mythology, is designed to resemble the underworld of Hades; and the (softened) combat scenes in which the huge, dark and menacing Nazis clash with the lively and colorful fighters representing the Allies.

Lengthy standing ovation

Ari Folman, second from right, with illustrator Lena Guberman and U.S. musician Ben Goldwasser at the screening of "Where Is Anne Frank" in Cannes last week.Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL - AFP

But even with a creative adaptation that is so well-served by the beautiful animation, “Where is Anne Frank” fails to induce the same wow factor for its inventiveness and originality as Folman’s two earlier features.

Maybe because this film is chiefly aimed at children and teens, it has a certain didactic tone throughout that keeps viewers at a slight distance and weighs down the adventurous and highly imaginative plot that Folman has devised. Good is good, evil is evil, and the refugees are the new victims of indifference and human evil. Even children can probably handle messages that are a little more complex.

Still, the overall reaction the film received at Cannes was much more enthusiastic. When the premiere ended at the Lumiere Theater, the crowd gave the filmmakers a very long standing ovation.

Folman came to Cannes with 50 other people who worked with him on his film – a crew that included dozens of animators from four continents – and at the end of the screening, their eight years of painstaking work was rewarded with thunderous applause.

“Where is Anne Frank” also received rave reviews in the international press. The movie was shown out of competition, so is not in the running for any prizes. Now we’ll just have to wait and see how its young target audience responds to this gorgeously animated version of Kitty and Anne’s story.

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