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My Best Friend Anne Frank on Netflix: Friendship as Refuge

The Dutch Holocaust drama My Best Friend Anne Frank on Netflix.

The latest, highly acclaimed adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary still has no German release date: in a daring trick, Ari Folman makes her imaginary friend Kitty the protagonist in “Where is Anne Frank”, the addressee of all entries written from 1944 onwards. This animated film, which is as artistic as it is educational, was screened in Cannes; only the accompanying graphic novel has been released in Germany so far.

Of course, Anne Frank also had friends in real life: Hannah Pick-Goslar and Jacqueline van Maarsen, who each published their memoirs, are 93 today. The Dutch feature film “My Best Friend Anne Frank” tells the story of the neighbor and school friend Hannah. She survived the Bergen-Belsen camp where Anne starved to death, separated from her friend by a high fence.

Even if director Ben Sombogaart concedes fictionalizations in the opening credits, the most shocking camp scenes probably largely correspond to Hannah’s descriptions: she experiences the death of her father with her little sister, whom she has to take care of beforehand – the mother died shortly before. After she can finally communicate with the sorely missed Anne, she even manages to throw food over the fence at great risk. This is only possible because the prisoners in their part of the facility, the so-called exchange camp, are not treated with the same cruelty. At least they are not left to starve to death in exchange for German prisoners of war.

Ben Sombogaart, a veteran of Dutch entertainment film, deserves respect for his comparatively discreet staging of the camp scenes. Forgoing exaggerated melodramatics is anything but a matter of course for feature films about the Holocaust, which often additionally dramatize the ultimate horror or break with sentimentality.

In fact, when it comes to depicting elusive cruelty, cinema often gets ahead with gaps that you involuntarily fill with your own images while watching. This does not happen here on the artistic level of masterpieces such as Andrzej Munk’s “The Passenger” or “Son of Saul” by László Nemes, but within the framework of a more conventional naturalism. But it also doesn’t give the impression of ready-made genre cinema.

The second level of action from the life of the girls in Amsterdam before their procrastination makes use of common conventions, those of teenage films; but in a very loving way. The two up-and-coming actresses fill their roles with so much liveliness that the camp scenes appear even more gruesome in contrast.

As Anne, Aiko Beemsterboer is the dominant figure in this girlfriendship, who, with youthful smugness, likes to get the somewhat shy Hannah (Josephine Arendsen) in trouble. For example, with their interest in sex education or in a purposeful flirt with a boy who smuggles their girlfriends into a cinema for this – Jewish people are not allowed to visit. Hannah would like to have something of the self-confidence of her articulate friend. Anne Frank, who collected celebrity portraits, was a knowledgeable cinema buff, and this lovely scene pays tribute to that passion. To this day, film images taped to the wall of the hiding place in the Anne Frank House testify to a cinephilia that survived even when it could no longer feed on new cinema impressions.

Of course you can say: If you are already addressing the cinema, you could perhaps have offered more of it. The Amsterdam city scenes in particular lack life, the Nazis seem like extras in the background. Much more could have been made of these memories, which have already been the subject of several documentaries; after all, Hannah Pick-Goslar, one of the protagonists, was available as a contemporary witness. Anne Frank’s language and worldview survived in her diaries and still speaks to young readers.

One has the feeling that the actresses convey more of the lifestyle of their role models than the usually somewhat stiff direction demands of them. Merely attesting to a Holocaust drama that it doesn’t fall short of common pitfalls doesn’t make it particularly attractive. This film is actually only worth seeing through the two main actresses, who merge with the epoch more than any historical setting.

They also master bilingualism with ease; both friends were eventually born in Germany. Even if Netflix also offers the film in a dubbed version, you should therefore fall back on the original Dutch version with subtitles; otherwise this important quality is lost. This film can play an important role in communicating the Holocaust to young people, as can Folman’s “Where is Anne Frank”; in doing so, he proceeds in a more demanding and perhaps also more disturbing manner than one might expect.

“My best friend Anne Frank”. Netherlands 2021. Director: Ben Sombogaart. 103 mins on Netflix.

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