'Frank' Oscar-winner is compelling cinema Movie review: Not slick or manipulative, Anne Frank documentary will break your heart, again.

April 26, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

It is one of history's most delicious triumphs that the men who murdered Anne Frank believed their empire would last a thousand years, but it lasted only 12 and ended in fire and ash, while the rats picked at their bones.

Meanwhile, it's her name that will last a millennium -- and perhaps longer.

Her prickly humanness, her palpable humanity, her sweetness and her complexity are re-evoked in the grave, beautiful and heartbreaking "Anne Frank Remembered," which opens today at the Charles, where it rotates with "Taxi Driver."

The movie, which won this year's Oscar for documentary, is studious and contemplative, never slick or manipulative. But by the end, it achieves a crushing burden of pain and poignancy. The director, Jon Blair, has set out to record the simple circumstances of her life and to record the memories of those who knew her.

Her circumstances are well known, of course. While hiding under the very nose of the Nazis, she kept an immaculate diary that chronicled her hopes, fears, longings and sadness, but most of all her optimism and her belief in humanity.

The film has some real scoops.

Done with the cooperation of the Anne Frank House, the organization that controls the Frank properties, it had access to archival material previously unseen. But more astonishingly, the House allowed the filmmakers to re-create, for the first time, the physical appearance of the secret apartment in the actual rooms.

Still, it's mostly a film of faces and voices, as the elderly women who grew up with Anne and her sister Margot recall her effervescence, her "naughtiness," her spunk, her incredible dynamism.

The central presence in the film is that of Miep Gies, Otto Frank's employee who courageously sustained the Franks as they hid by bringing them food and news.

But it's lovely little Anne you feel in every frame of the movie. What emerges is a smart, funny, unsentimentally observed teen.

And the film saves its most extraordinary moment for the end. That is the discovery of a snippet of home movie taken in the late '30s of a wedding in the Franks' neighborhood. The unknown cameraman, possibly on mere whim, allowed his lens to drift upward where it captured a little girl peering out the window at the doings below, intensely curious, her eyes alive with the sparkle of life.

She turns and yells something to someone inside, a gesture of such spontaneity and life-force it all but breaks your heart, even if it's been broken before, and no matter how many times.

'Anne Frank Remembered'

Documentary

Directed by Jon Blair

Released by Sony Classics

Rating PG

Sun score ****

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