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Where Is Anne Frank review – often beautiful but deeply frustrating parable

A harrowing Holocaust milieu proves a very bad fit for a silly YA story that is let down by leaden voice acting

There is a version of Where Is Anne Frank, with its dreamlike animation and morally clear-eyed position on Europe’s failure to truly learn from the Holocaust, that is a wrenching, heartbreaking experience, one that would be impossible to shake or forget. Unfortunately, though, the finished product from Waltz With Bashir writer-director Ari Folman ultimately falls well short of that, weighing itself down with a ridiculous YA romantic adventure that just gets in the way of everything else the film is trying to say.

The over-complicated story here jumps about through time, though we do mostly have one consistent point of view in the form of Kitty (Ruby Stokes) – the imaginary friend who Anne Frank (Emily Carey) addressed her diary to. We first meet Kitty in the present day, after a lightning storm somehow awakens her from the pages of Anne’s diary, shunting her into our reality, scared and confused in the Anne Frank House museum. As Kitty tries to figure out exactly what has happened, we also follow her back in time to the 1940s, seeing her relationship with Anne as the Frank family hid away from the Nazis in Amsterdam.

Initially, it seems a very potent premise, Folman capturing both the looming horror of Anne’s time and making sharp comparisons between the Nazi treatment of Jews and present-day Europe’s despicable handling of the refugee crisis. It swiftly soon falls apart, though, after Kitty meets Peter (Ralph Prosser), a refugee street kid who just so happens to share the name of the Peter (Heartstopper’s Sebastian Croft) that Anne lived with in the annex.

As Peter shows Kitty around modern Amsterdam and (excruciatingly slowly) reveals Anne’s ultimate fate, the pair getting into scrapes with the police along the way, their story strays ever further into silly and frustrating territory, treading the same ground over and over and taking far too long to go anywhere. It’s not helped by some of the most uninspiring voice acting in recent memory, the potential power of most of the character beats let down by performances that are, across the board, flat, emotionless, and constantly staccato in rhythm.

It becomes a chore to listen to, which is a great shame when the visuals behind the characters are often so strong. Spindly people contrast against resolutely realistic architecture, while Anne’s dreamscapes are both gorgeous and terrifying as she imagines the horror of the Polish camps, which meld the brutal steel of the Nazi war machine with hellish imagery plucked straight from Greek myth. The Wehrmacht soldiers themselves are rendered as giant, unfeeling ghouls, convincingly capturing a child’s-eye view of an oppressive invading army.

As Anne’s journey approaches its end, these visuals are heightened further and further in an undeniably affecting way, but even this finale is once again undercut by the irritating modern plot, including a downright baffling final shot. The two halves at play here – one a harrowing war story in which flights of fancy offer a vital escape and the other a magical realist caper that seems aimed exclusively at younger teens – never satisfyingly mesh together, leaving behind a beautiful but empty parable.

Where Is Anne Frank is released in UK cinemas on 12 August.

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