We all know that when Sofia Coppola tried to interpolate elements of pop culture in her 2006 film Marie Antoinette it turned out to be a disaster. From Hollywood’s many similar escapades it is quite evident that history and pop culture seldom go hand in hand.
#AnneFrank: Parallel Stories was released on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation. A poignant documentary interspersed with soulful narrations of passages from Anne’s diary by the renowned Oscar winner Helen Mirren, it shows considerable potential at its commencement.
The documentary not only captures the stories of the camp survivors but also focuses on the often neglected generational trauma that ensues. It is undeniably thought-provoking to watch the families that these survivors created, try and navigate their way around the part of the camp that their parents and grandparents brought along with them and striving to understand it. Moreover, the documentary also makes a strong impression with the plea of survivors to pass the baton on to the next generation; trying to keep the memory alive.
Despite these impressionable traits, the documentary has several erratic shifts from the actual rendition of these parallel stories to drawing parallels between the past and the present.
For instance, the film crosses the threshold of historical narration and resurrects ‘Kitty’; the imaginary name Anne gave to her diary, from oblivion. In the film, Kitty is the embodiment of a typical Gen Z kid who feels the need to document her every life activity on social media and simultaneously use hashtags. This is where the documentary starts getting problematic. In its bid to make Anne look more relatable, it presents Kitty as a girl from the 21st century traveling across Europe to various Holocaust memorials trying to understand Anne’s story.
The character of Kitty can’t get any more annoying as all she does is click a picture of everything she sees and put a status update with hashtags like #endurance, #shoah, #nazism, etc. This blatant reduction of the history of mass genocide to mere hashtags takes away all the gloss from the film. This is not only problematic in a sense of disrespect but also generalizes the current generation as tech-savvy in different individuals, which is not the case as evident from the cropping up of myriad youth leaders and movements in the past decade.
Another problematic aspect is that Anne’s identity is left half-told. Anne Frank’s diary is not just evidence of the Nazi mass brutality but also a source of inspiration and fortitude for youth across the world fighting personal battles. Mirren narrates with a bucketful of emotions Anne’s account of her first romantic encounter with Peter van Pels while the passages of her diary where she talks about her desire for a girlfriend are left untouched.
It is ironic to note that the documentary highlights the hashtag culture at lengths but misses upon the opportunity of voicing Anne’s queer narrative. The fact that Anne was courageous enough to ponder upon her sexuality in an age when homosexuality was a criminal offense transforms her into a youth icon. The film even after its strong bid for relatability fails to understand what today’s youth really relates to.
We relate to Anne because she was a normal teenage girl like any of us who had questions about her sexuality, inner turmoils, wishes, and dreams.
We relate to her because she makes us question our capabilities and endless possibilities life can have.