MY BEST FRIEND ANNE FRANK (2021), a film that hails from the Netherlands and is now available on Netflix, tells the story of the friendship between Anne Frank and her best friend Hannah Goslar and covers events from just before Anne and her family went into hiding inside the secret annex and afterwards, when Hannah and Anne were briefly reunited inside a concentration camp.
As such, the film makes for an enlightening companion piece to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, the world-renowned diary written by the middle school aged Anne Frank while she and her family were in hiding from the Nazis, which the only member of her family to survive the ordeal, her father, Otto Frank, decided to publish after the war.
Hannah Goslar is mentioned by Anne a bunch of times in her diary, but Otto Frank changed some of the names of the people they knew, and in early versions of the diary Hannah’s name was changed to Lies. In the most recent versions of the diary, Hannah’s real name has been restored.
MY BEST FRIEND ANNE FRANK tells its story by switching back and forth between the time just before Anne and her family go into hiding, and later, when both she and Hannah are imprisoned in concentration camps, and it does so seamlessly.
The film opens in 1942 in Holland where best friends Anne Frank (Aiko Beemsterboer) and Hannah Goslar (Josephine Arendsen) enjoy their time together with tea parties, games of hide and seek, and talking about boys, while dealing with the Nazi occupation, which at this time in their lives seems to be not much more than an annoying nuisance. It then pivots to 1945 where Hannah is imprisoned with her very young sister inside a Nazi concentration camp. Her ill father is kept in a different part of the camp, and on occasion they are allowed to visit him. The living conditions are deplorable, food scarce, and disease rampant. Hannah discovers than Anne is imprisoned in another section of the camp, and the conditions there are even worse. They communicate on either side of a wall, and as Anne pleads for food, Hannah decides to risk her life to get food to her best friend.
The film pivots back and forth between these two time periods, inviting us to witness the friendship between Anne and Hannah, and later when the situations for the two girls grow dire, to understand how such a deep friendship impacted both their lives.
I enjoyed MY BEST FRIEND ANNE FRANK very much. Director Ben Sombogaart, who spent a lot of time talking to the real life Hannah Goslar, who is still alive and, in her nineties, has made a sensitive and in spite of its subject matter heartwarming movie that celebrates the friendship between two girls which saw them through unspeakable times. And in Anne’s case, since she died in the concentration camp, was something she took with her to her death. The movie is an affirmation of the human spirit, that in spite of the Nazi atrocities, the spirit and friendship of these two girls would not quit, and the love they felt for each other outlasted the Nazi horrors.
The screenplay by Marian Batavier and Paul Ruven, based on the book Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold, has been criticized by some for sometimes showing Anne in an unfavorable light, as she is depicted at times being bratty and also being very comfortable and open talking about sexuality, but if you’ve read Anne’s Diary, you know that this is how she was, and so the movie doesn’t really get into anything regarding Anne’s personality that isn’t already known from the diary. It does a fine job capturing the friendship between Anne and Hannah and does so in a tender, affectionate way.
Josephine Arendsen is outstanding as Hannah, in what is pretty much the lead role in the movie, since the film spends most of its time telling its story from Hannah’s perspective. Arendsen plays Hannah as being much less precocious and confident than Anne, but who nonetheless possesses tremendous courage in the face of adversity. Arendsen reminded me a bit of Anya Taylor-Joy at times.
Aiko Beemsterboer was also very good as Anne Frank, and her portrayal was consistent with how Anne talks about herself in her diary.
We live in a time when authoritarianism is creeping back into the world, and so the story of Anne Frank continues to be an important one to tell and remember, to fight back against the powers that be who believe in anything less than human rights for all.
MY BEST FRIEND ANNE FRANK frames Anne’s story around her friendship with Hannah Goslar and tells it through Hannah’s eyes, adding a fresh perspective to the narrative of a young girl who only wanted to see the world, but whose life was cut short by the Nazis.
Her words live on to inspire those to remember her plight and to fight on against the powers of fascism wherever they may be.