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The 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation has been marked by this heartfelt and valuable documentary, presented on camera by Helen Mirren, centring on the Anne Frank story (Mirren is shown in a reconstruction of Anne’s secret room in the Amsterdam house, and reading from her diaries) but also bringing in testimony from many current Holocaust survivors, and their families, as well as talking to archivists and historians.
It is a film that is targeted at younger people with what is perhaps an educational mission, and with this in mind there is a connecting-thread motif. It periodically imagines a young woman travelling by rail all over Europe to various historical sites, ending in Amsterdam, posting pictures and thoughts on Instagram, hashtagging key phrases.
Perhaps the film needed that, perhaps it didn’t; and I have to admit I also wasn’t entirely sure about Mirren’s readings in which she will often catch her breath with emotion. It’s entirely sincere, of course, but unearned, compared to the calm, frank and unshowy testimony of the survivors themselves.
But, in the main, this is a very substantial and worthwhile film, with eyewitness accounts supplemented by robust contributions from people such as historian Michael Birnbaum, and a clear guide to the way that our understanding of the Holocaust has grown, beginning with that historic moment in which it was arguably crystallised in the public mind: the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial.
There are some amazing Shoah exhibits all over the world, which are often very beautiful and moving – and, incidentally, a very shrewd account of the Terezin ghetto in the Czech Republic. And I’m always surprised by how many extant photographs there are of Anne Frank herself, whose image gives this story such power.
• #AnneFrank. Parallel Stories is released in the UK on 27 January.
• This article was amended on 24 January 2020 to clarify that Helen Mirren filmed in a reconstruction of Anne Frank’s “secret room”, not in the room itself as an earlier version implied.
Source: The Guardian
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