A jaw-dropping Anne Frank Video Diary

In 2020, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam jumped into the game with their Anne Frank Video Diary, being delivered weekly in 15 episodes on YouTube.

The Anne Frank Video Diary star is 13-year-old Luna Cruz Perez (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Anne Frank Video Diary star is 13-year-old Luna Cruz Perez
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Comedian Ricky Gervais famously quipped that The Diary of Anne Frank “ends a bit abruptly and no sequel.” Obviously, Gervais has not researched the topic. Anne Frank is the ultimate Holocaust film franchise; since 1958, one new Anne Frank film or television drama has been produced on average every 2½ years.
In 2020, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam jumped into the game with their Anne Frank Video Diary, being delivered weekly in 15 episodes on YouTube, accompanied by seven educational video extras and a workbook. All episodes will be rolled out by early next month. Like Instagram’s selfie-inspired Eva.Stories (2019) – where a Hungarian-accented English-speaking actress portrays Holocaust victim Eva Heyman vlogging her 1940s oppression – this new Anne Frank also wields a small unseen video camera.
Strangely, Anne Frank Video Diary cannot be shown in the United States, but is accessible in Israel and 75 other countries, apparently out of deference to the separate “Anne Frank Fonds” (Foundation) in Basil, Switzerland, the copyright holder of all Anne Frank intellectual property.
The Anne Frank Video Diary star is 13-year-old Luna Cruz Perez, who does not even slightly resemble Anne Frank, aside from her age and a hair-part. Perez is the youngest actress to play Anne Frank in a major production, which is certainly a win for authenticity. Perez was chosen because of acting ability and faithfulness to Anne Frank’s spirit, according to the Anne Frank Video Diary’s project leader, Tom Brink, Head of Publications & Presentations at the Anne Frank House. Her performance is passable, given the format. The father’s character, too, was balanced and seemingly true to Otto Frank. The make up and lighting were troubling, though, especially with Otto Frank’s bald prosthetic and the ultra-close-ups on Anne Frank.
The romantic interactions between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels are clumsy, even for the intended age group. As with most other Anne Frank films, the romantic filler in the Anne Frank Video Diary misappropriates time that is better spent on Holocaust-specific subplots. Thankfully, this obligatory coming-of-age element is unusually tame in the Anne Frank Video Diary.
The sets are identical representations of the Franks’ hiding place, including the beams, although this would seem obvious for an Anne Frank House production. Nonetheless, this painstaking authenticity must be lauded and appreciated. Also adding great credibility – and as opposed to the English-spoken Hungarian-set Eva.Stories – is that the Anne Frank Video Diary uses Anne Frank’s native language, Dutch. The Anne Frank Video Diary episode titles, too, as in Episode Six’s “Quarrelling with dad,” drain much of the suspense out of the vignettes.
While the underlying material is the diary, the cast was given leeway to improvise. Even so, the dialogue does not stray significantly from the original text. But that devotion to the spirit of the source material is badly in conflict with the selfie format, which is pedantic here, as in Eva.Stories. Neither production trusted their underlying martyrs’ diaries to tell stories within only three walls. Both productions explicitly undermine their veracity, seeming to suggest that today’s adolescents are incapable of understanding traditional narrative, which is clearly an inaccurate assumption given the flood of other period-pieces directed at kids, programming that does not debase itself by injecting inauthentic communication technologies into stories. Thank goodness Greta Gerwig did not catch the selfie bug and desisted from putting a cellphone in the hands of the March Sisters when directing Little Women (2019).
The Anne Frank Video Diary regularly bashes the selfie anachronism over viewers’ heads, as with the following interspersed dialogue from a few episodes: “And I’m capable [of success], because now I’m working on this project. My video diary.” “Hello, dad. I’ve recorded this video message for you.” Although these passages were intended to assure young viewers that video was not actually true to the era, instead this dialogue was more like a splinter in a wood floor that always draws blood.
This splinter becomes a spike in the “extras,” as its narrator proclaims, “Everything about this story is true. The people, the events, the location and the story. All of it. Except for the camera.” That is, all of it except for the time machine. Another promotional supplement suggests, “We all know that Anne Frank kept a diary. Imagine she’d had a video camera.” Yes, as if Eva.Stories’ “What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram” was not disturbing enough. Why should anyone have to imagine such things, especially with historical content intended for education?
And, to be clear, breaking the fourth wall can, in fact, work in Holocaust productions – as with Genghis Cohn (1993), Train of Life (1998), and My Führer (2007) – but each of those films was farce, which is certainly not the case here. At this point, wouldn’t it be nice if someone could get back to producing uncompromised Holocaust content after Eva.Stories, Jojo Rabbit (2019), Hunters (TV 2020 - ) and the Anne Frank Video Diary?
The irony, frankly, is that this well-intentioned Anne Frank Video Diary could have been very good simply by having the Anne Frank character narrate passages while writing them (ignoring the camera). Its otherwise stellar authenticity to the annex would then have added immeasurably to the Anne Frank canon.
While the Anne Frank Video Diary, as it stands, is jaw-dropping for adults who simply cannot ignore its solicitous premise, it may work as a starter on the Anne Frank journey, as merely a supplement to the diary, especially with its educational extras. But hopefully, the Anne Frank Video Diary will lead those same viewers to seek out more significant and mature offerings, like 2001’s indispensable Anne Frank - The Whole Story or the groundbreaking My Daughter Anne Frank - Meine Tochter Anne Frank (TV 2015).
The writer is a lecturer for Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. This article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Holocaust Film Bible: 75 Years of Narrative Holocaust Film (1945 – 2020).