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#TIFF21 Review: Where is Anne Frank (Special Presentations)

September 14, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest animated film from Waltz With Bashir filmmaker Ari Folman, Where is Anne Frank is a valuable and often moving animated history lesson that draws parallels between past and present discrimination. The film serves as an adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, but it takes a unique narrative approach to telling this well known true story, setting it in present day and allowing it to unfold from the perspective of Anne’s imaginary friend Kitty.

The film opens with a storm raging outside Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, blowing the tent off a refugee family sleeping on the sidewalk. Inside the museum, the storm causes the glass around Anne Frank’s original diary to break. The ink lifts off the page, and swirls together to bring Anne’s imaginary friend to life. From here, Kitty (voiced by Ruby Stokes) goes searching for her friend Anne (voiced by Emily Carey) in modern day Amsterdam, assuming that she is still alive. What she finds is a society where undocumented immigrants are being rounded up by police.

The film unfolds through flashbacks and present day scenes, as the two stories converge with Kitty slowly discovering the truth about Anne. While the target audience of Where is Anne Frank skews a bit younger than Waltz With Bashir, the benefit of Folman’s film is that it does a good job of contextualizing the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime for younger audiences. The Nazis themselves are depicted as terrifying, almost ghostly figures with black robes and white faces, and the film effectively touches upon the impacts that bigotry and authoritarianism have upon real people.

In the flashback scenes, Folman does a good job of humanizing Anne, including heartbreaking moments when she talks about her freedoms being taken away. She loves movie stars and has pictures of them on her wall, but, as she tells Kitty, Jews have been barred from going to the movies. It’s moments like these that really drive home the message of Where is Anne Frank, which does a simple but very effective job of highlighting how governments throughout history have scapegoated minority groups by blaming them for all of society’s problems.

The film is a bit heavy-handed in some of its narrative choices, especially during the somewhat busy climax, which I had a few mixed feelings about. The dual narrative structure itself can also feel overly convoluted, and the modern day scenes aren’t always as effective as the flashbacks. But the story does hit home with its message that hate and discrimination of any kind are wrong, and I imagine it will become a solid teaching tool in schools for kids a bit too young to read Anne Frank’s diary.

Folman’s film is emotionally effective as a whole and often visually striking, brought to life through some lovely 2D animation. Additionally, some of the scenes inside Anne Frank House feature the characters animated over actual footage shot inside miniatures, giving them a very unique look. Finally, Where is Anne Frank features a number of moving original songs by Karen O and Ben Goldwasser.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 14th – 6:00 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Wednesday, September 15th – 1:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Saturday, September 18th – 1:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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