In 1940, Nazi Germany makes its absolute claim over the city of Amsterdam, and we meet two girls, living free and in their late teens, comfortably wearing a yellow patch of cloth on their arm. “My Best Friend Anne Frank” is a heartbreaking tale of two Jewish best friends, Anne Frank and Hannah Goslar, whose fates have already been decided, but one is miraculously lucky to live free.
The film begins with two girls playfully exploring Anne’s upper attic, while Anne’s father is dictating an official document to his stenographer while continuing to make a countdown, partaking in Anne’s game of hide and seek. At least Hannah takes it seriously to finally come bursting out into the attic above with Anne. But reality hits them when they see a Nazi officer kicks a Jew in the face.
“My Best Friend Anne Frank” poignantly portrays what the everyday life of Amsterdam was like at the time. With terror ready to strike at their doorstep, it was always unsafe to step outside. They lived in constant fear of being dragged to the concentration camps. You could never imagine this film to be a series because it would prolong the pain to see that humans could even live like this. Director Ben Sombogaart’s vision is to show how life changed for both the girls, who had such staunch personalities and could never imagine that something like this could happen to them.
Cinematically, “My Best Friend Anne Frank” touches you tenderly everywhere with occasional painful sightings of how the Jews were treated when they appeared for attendance every morning while being severely cussed and cursed at. They would occasionally sneak an apple from the medical dispensary and hide it to pass it on while standing in front of one another. When they had to stand in the middle of a military air raid with their hands raised as the Nazi soldiers ran for cover. When Anne is kissed by a boy, he is really just slobbering on her neck, and she looks expectantly at Hannah to rescue her. When Anne runs around the house with a mop on her head, dancing a jazz routine to have Hannah propose to her with a ring given secretly to her by her father. When the Nazi officers storm into Hannah’s house and push her in-labor mother on the bed to squeeze her pregnant belly and make her scream.
Since we would never know Anne Frank as a person, Hannah Goslar sat down with author Alison Leslie Goldand to write a book, Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend. In this film, through the director’s eye, we see that Anne is a spirited girl with no boundaries, and Hannah is her ever-supportive and loving best friend. Till Anne’s very end, While the book would be a narration from Hannah’s perspective, we observe Anne as an outsider. We understand Hannah’s journey because that is all we have as documentation, along with the Diary of Anne Frank. The film takes us one step ahead of this diary to peer into Anne’s life, which took a dangerous turn once she was uprooted from her family’s hiding place, called the Secret Annex.
(Major Spoilers Ahead)
Screenplay writers Marian Batavier and Paul Ruven place Hannah’s story at the forefront with Anne as part of it, as we shuttle from Hannah’s present time in the concentration camp alone with a group of Hungarian women, to her reminiscing of a free and happy life with her father, pregnant mother, and baby sister, Gabi, that she had earlier.
“My Best Friend Anne Frank” moves with swiftness to account for the underlying danger that lies for Otto Frank, Anne’s father, who pleads with Vader Goslar, Hannah’s father, to try and escape with him to the Annex. To try and stay hidden for as long as they possibly can.
Hannah’s father, meanwhile, is convinced that they will get their German passports and will leave the country. But on December 1st, 1940, Anne Frank disappeared with no letter for Hannah. This throws her into a well of depression. Once the pregnant mother, Mutti, dies, their fates are sealed when the arresting officers return and bang on their doors. At the concentration camps, Hannah is with her sister, Gabi, and their father is lying in the medical dispensary. Coughing terribly, he managed to secure safe passage (human exchange for a German) for the three of them. In the morning during attendance, Hannah hears someone whistle the tune that only Anne knew about. Renewed with hope, Hannah strives to make sure she can find Anne on the other side of the wall that is made of hay and is shared between the two camps. By sheer luck, Hannah manages to speak to Anne. She is with Margot, her elder sister, and they have not eaten in days. Tragedy strikes again when Hannah’s father dies, and the women in the camp offer the bread crumbs they have saved for themselves to the children as an offering for a loved one who has passed. Hannah packs it all up and puts it in a box to wrap it and throw it across the wall to Anne. After Anne catches the box, she opens it to eat, and Hannah rips away the hay from the wall to get a peek at her friend. Anne’s head has been shaved, and she wears a brown, thick cloth over her body. They rekindle their friendship, and this is the last time they see each other.
Hannah gets out the next day, and Anne leaves this world after being in hiding for two years at the Annex and two years in the Camps. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived the camps and found Anne’s writing which he compiled into a diary, in the memory of who she was and what she stood for. The film stands for an emotionally taxing viewing but builds hope in the viewer’s heart and mind with the lingering stench of the Nazis lurking in the background, making it a perfect watch, at least once.
“My Best Friend Anne Frank” is a 2021 Drama film directed by Ben Sombogaart. It is currently streaming on Netflix.