The story of the young girl Anne Frank has been adapted for TV and the cinema many times. Surprisingly, there has never been a German adaptation for the big screen - until now.
"Why do German filmmakers always leave it to the Americans to turn this story into a movie?" a big German daily asked regretfully when "The Diary of Anne Frank" premiered in German cinemas in 1959. George Steven's film adaptation of the now iconic diary seemed cheesy to audiences and critics alike. Another half-century had to go by for there to be a German Anne Frank production for the big screen.
The film premiered at this year's Berlinale in its traditional youth section "Generation." Director Hans Steinbichler's film, simply titled "Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank" (The Diary of Anne Frank), opens in German cinemas on March 4.
It's probably no coincidence that the production is screened to young Berlinale goers. Steinbichel sticks closely to the well-known plot and shows no sign of creatively reinterpreting Anne Frank's story. Overall, the film is well executed, easy to follow, features good acting and has its dramatic moments. It's probably best suited for school curriculums in Germany.
"The Diary of Anne Frank" is one the most important documents of German recent history. "We've always been astonished that no German adaption was ever made," said producers M. Walid Nakschbandi und Michael Souvignier before the premiere. "We thought it was high time someone produced it."
Fifteen-year-old German actor Lea van Acken takes on the role of Anne Frank. Her parents Edith and Otto Frank are played by Martina Gedeck and Ulrich Noethen, Anne's sister Margot by Stella Kunkat.
Trapped in a secret apartment
Steinbichler's film tells the events in chronological order, starting with the Franks emigrating from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in 1934. After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, the family goes into hiding in an apartment in the Prinsengracht 263. Over the course of two years they share the small living space with four other persecuted Jews. On her 13th birthday, Anne gets a diary in which she documents her life from that point onward.
Director Steinbichler and script writer Fred Breinersdorfer stuck closely to Anne's diary, consulted further notes by the Frank family and did extensive research, which is all reflected in their film. But they also placed their own emphasis on the story.
"For me, there were two very important approaches to the project," said Steinbichler. "Firstly, to absolutely tell it from Anne's point of view and, secondly, to transform the diary into actual speech."
Depicting a teenager's everyday anxieties
The diary was written by a "smart, but also very normal girl," Steinbichler added. It was important to him to "take Anne off that pedestal and make her appear less sacrosanct." The film achieves that goal by giving room to the inner workings of Anne's adolescent mind and her teenage antics.
Steinblicher doesn't reduce life in the hide-out to just the threatening Nazi scenario. "Anne isn't primarily the victim of Nazi crimes, after all. She's much more than that - a vivacious girl full of hopes and dreams," the producers added.
Anne Frank "was robbed of a normal everyday life," Steinbichler said.
Anne Franks talks directly to the camera
The director's second approach of turning the diary's prose into actual speech is especially important for the film's opening. "I'm working with speeches in which Anne directly addresses the audience," said Steinbichler. "I'm using this element to address the question of who Anne really is."
The good thing about producing new adaptations of impactful historical documents like Anne Frank's diary is that the material reaches a new audience every time. Would young moviegoers today go see a black-and-white production dating back to the 1950s? Probably not.
Anne Frank in the year 2016
And there's another reason why this new adaptation might be a good idea. The film relates to the world as it is right now. On the hand, the script strictly adheres to historical events, while still leaving enough room for imagination and filling out the gaps.
"I wanted to bring Anne Frank into the here and now," said Steinbichler. "Of course the material is historical but that doesn't mean you have to put a dusty sepia brown filter on all of it. I think we're just a blink away from everything that happened back then."