'Anne Frank' draws a clear picture in words

June 08, 1995|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Frank was nobody special. She fought with her mother and worshiped her father. She idolized movie stars, had a crush on a boy several years her senior, was unfavorably compared to her older sister, and worried her body wasn't developing fast enough.

But she kept a diary, and became a legend.

The Disney Channel's "Anne Frank Remembered" does not numb its viewers with image after image of the Holocaust. It does not offer a history lesson detailing the Nazi rise to power. It does not lay on its emotions with a trowel.

Instead, it quietly, effectively and authoritatively takes the teen-ager who may have been the Holocaust's most famous victim and shows exactly who she was: a young girl, full of sugar and spice, tempered with more than a -- of vinegar, who died decades before she had a right to.

By doing so, it provides two of the most emotion-filled hours of television you'll see this or any year.

Premiering at 9 tonight on Disney, which is in the middle of one of its free preview weeks, "Anne Frank Remembered" recounts all the details -- not of Nazis or Jews or war, but of a 13-year-old forced into hiding; of a young girl blossoming into womanhood at the worst possible time; of a mischievous girl who believed she would be famous someday, and had the prescience to keep a diary that would eventually justify that confidence.

For two years, the Franks -- father Otto, mother Edith, older sister Margot and Anne -- hid from the Nazis in a secret annex above her father's Amsterdam factory. They were soon joined by another family, the van Pels, and a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. Isolated from the world, forced to move about only at night, so as not to betray their existence to the workers below, the eight expatriate German Jews almost pulled it off. Betrayed by an anonymous phone call, they were rousted by police in August 1944 and eventually sent to Auschwitz -- on one of the last trains sent there before war's end.

"Anne Frank Remembered" chronicles the family's life as revealed in the diary -- Anne's devotion to her father and impatience with her mother, her crush on young Peter van Pels, her exasperation with Pfeffer, the stern disciplinarian.

Narrator Kenneth Branagh summarizes Anne's writings and adds background when appropriate for context; Glenn Close reads passages from the diary itself.

But the tragedy of young Anne becomes even more poignant when those who knew her speak. What emerges is a picture not of the diarist whose work has passed into legend, but of a girl who could have been anyone's daughter. Her friends insist she lit up any room she was in, and acquaintances suggest she was a rascal, maybe a little too impressed with herself.

Also interviewed are several women who saw Anne and her family while at the concentration camps. Their descriptions of what the Franks were forced to live through are as horrifying as any photograph.

Hanneli Goslar, a school friend of Anne's mentioned extensively in the diary, ended up at the Bergen-Belsen death camp at the same time as Anne and Margot, who had been moved there from Auschwitz. Taken back to the camp site by filmmaker Jon Blair, she recounts her efforts to throw food across a fence to her

dying friend. Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper was also at the camp when Anne died, just weeks before it was liberated by the Americans. Otto Frank was the only one of the eight to survive the camps, and it was Brandes-Brilleslijper who broke the news to him that his daughters were dead.

Most remarkable, however, are the extensive interviews with Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who risked her life daily to take food and supplies to the Franks' hiding place, the Secret Annex. The courage she showed, even visiting Nazi headquarters after the raid to try to win her friends' release, is otherworldly. And a first-time meeting with Peter Pepper, who was sent to live in England before the war by his father, Fritz Pfeffer, is the film's emotional watermark.

The documentary includes interviews with Otto Frank, who died in 1980, and the only known moving picture of Anne -- five seconds of film that should crack even the hardest of hearts.

Director Blair, whose documentary on Oskar Schindler won a British Oscar, directs with a steady and unobtrusive hand. His decision to use background music only sparingly lets viewers reflect on what is being said without having their emotions manipulated. His interview subjects are amazingly candid about dredging up memories that are anything but pleasant.

In addition, the unrestricted access Mr. Blair is given to the Secret Annex, now one of Amsterdam's biggest tourist attractions, reaps considerable dividends. Seeing a wall covered with pictures of Anne's favorite movie stars, while listening to her best friend recall how they collected those pictures, is like getting a guided tour from Anne herself.

Anne Frank was an unremarkable young girl who unwittingly -- and unforgivably -- was forced to speak for untold thousands of young girls just like her, murdered for the simple crime of being born Jewish. The greatest strength of "Anne Frank Remembered" lies in that essential truth.

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