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'Anne Frank Remembered' Enhances Heroine's Story

The documentary offers more detail on her life

THE film "Anne Frank Remembered" is an excellent movie that deserves a better title.

Millions already remember Anne from the diary she wrote while she and her family were in hiding from genocidal killers during the Nazi era. It's a book written by a child, yet it has been translated into many languages and read all over the world for its extraordinary value as both history and humanism.

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By calling their movie "Anne Frank Remembered," the filmmakers suggest that they recall her legacy more completely than others do, or that the world has not been paying enough attention to her story. There may be some truth to these propositions, but I doubt many thoughtful people ever forget the young author once they've encountered the slim volume she penned in secret, never knowing it would be published in 1947 and live a vigorous life for decades thereafter. "Anne Frank Celebrated" would have been a more appropriate title for the new film about her life and times.

This said, "Anne Frank Remembered" does bring new resources to bear on its subject, adding fresh bits of evidence to collective memories Anne's admirers already share.

Billed as the first eyewitness account of her experiences, it supplements long-familiar material - views of prewar Austria and Germany, shots of Nazi atrocities, and so on - with photographs and family letters not used in previous screen treatments.

With cooperation from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the filmmakers have reconstructed the Franks' hideout as it looked when Anne and her seven companions lived there. Perhaps most important, the movie presents vivid recollections of Anne's life from survivors who knew her or her family, interweaving these with archival footage including a few seconds of deeply moving film that shows Anne herself shortly before her family went into its awful seclusion.

"Anne Frank Remembered" would be more provocative if it dipped into recent developments related to Anne's history, including revelations that her father edited and expurgated her diary in order to make it more presentable to the mass audience it quickly acquired.

The film's achievements are considerable as they stand, though, and its high technical quality and informative yet compassionate tone are no accidents. It was written and directed by Jon Blair, a veteran British documentarist whose credits include nonfiction movies on Oskar Schindler and Richard Wagner, among other ambitious subjects. Among his collaborators on the project are Kenneth Branagh and Glenn Close, who speak the narration and read from Anne's diary, and Carl Davis, who composed the score.

Thanks also go to the movie's distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, which is bringing this worthwhile enterprise to American theaters despite the long odds against any documentary bringing in a significant amount of profit. Nonfiction films occasionally do well commercially, but this usually happens when there's an element of sensationalism ("Crumb") or political contentiousness ("Roger & Me") or Academy Award controversy ("(Hoop Dreams") to raise the picture's publicity profile.

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Sony Classics has the admirable habit of releasing an occasional documentary just because it's a nice, constructive movie; last year's "Martha & Ethel," about two elderly nannies and the families they raised, is another case in point.

"Anne Frank Remembered" isn't likely to burn up the box office, but it performs a laudable function by renewing the reputation of a great young heroine, and reminding the world of her courage in the face of this century's most horrific crime. Everyone who worked on the movie should take a well-earned bow.

*"Anne Frank Remembered" has not been rated. It contains graphic views of Nazi violence.

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