Netflixable? “My Best Friend, Anne Frank”

Her diary showed Anne Frank in human dimensions, a “normal” teenage girl of the Europe of her era — fascinated by celebrities, sex, interested in boys, sometimes petty, devoted to her dad, a little less fond of her mother.

Her decades as an international icon, the most famous Holocaust victim of them all, have clouded over that. “My Best Friend Anne Frank,” a new Dutch film based on the life of Israeli Holocaust survivor Hannah Goslar-Pick, gives a martyr her humanity back.

Goslar-Pick was a German-Dutch neighbor who grew up with Anne and was even transported to the same camp complex where Anne and her sister Margot died — Bergen-Belsen.

“My Best Friend” remembers the playful, rebellious and occasional mean girl that Anne was in a somewhat staid but well-acted film about Anne’s last years.

This Dutch film follows two timelines, capturing the nervous but relatively happy times the two schoolmates/playmates spent in Occupied Amsterdam in the summer of 1942, just before the Frank family slipped away to hide in their famous “annex” until they were exposed and arrested by the Germans and their Dutch collaborators. The person who most likely gave them away was identified just last month.

And we follow “Haneli” (Josephine Arendsen) through the winter of 1945, a teen still taking care of her baby sister, still listening to her father (Roeland Fernhout), who used to promise that he’d obtain the passports that would get the family out of German Occupied Europe, who now promises they’re due to be “exchanged” for German POWs any day now.

Hannah remembers herself as shy, praised for her singing voice, but inexperienced about all the “sex” stuff that interested Anne. Even though Hannah claims to want to be a nurse, “like Florence Nightingale,” she recoils every time Anne brings up human reproduction — or tries to shock her with illustrations from a medical text.

But Anne has schooled Hannah in a different way to approach life, to literally ask “What would Anne do?” (in Dutch, with subtitles, or dubbed into English). That’s how they slip into the cinema, watching a German propaganda newsreel and (apparently) “The White Angel,” a 1936 film about Florence Nightingale, from behind the screen.

Jews “aren’t allowed to use the phone, aren’t allowed into the cinema” Anne parrots. She is bold enough to flirt with boys, brazen enough to let one sneak them into the movies, and given to pranks — some of which strike her fragile friend as quite cruel.

Nearly three years later, Hannah tells her baby sister that Anne is “is on the other side of the (thatch-covered) fence,” in the deadlier work camp next door to the “exchange camp” Hannah, Gabi and her father are in. “What would Anne do?” is how she rescues Gabi’s stuffed bunny, and how she resolves to make contact, late at night, calling through that thatched fence to strangers on the other side. She’s looking for her best friend, Anne.

“She is probably the most talkative among you.”

I like the elegant parallel structure screenwriters Marian Batavier and Paul Ruven came up with for this. We’re sweat out the ticking clock of Allied “liberation” in the came, and we’re allowed to count-down towards Anne’s family’s planned “escape,” with Anne just as in the dark about it as Hannah.

But Hannah hears their fathers talking, and there are other clues about what’s coming. The German thuggery, matched by that of Dutch police hoping to impress their masters (and save their own skins) we see at every turn reminds of the stakes and the urgency of Otto Frank’s (Stefan de Walle) “annex” plans.

The life-inside-the-camp scenes are where the pathos of this story lies, although the main focus is on how Hannah took Anne’s bravery to heart to help her sister, stand up to her father and to the Hungarian Jewish women who dominated her barracks at Bergen-Belsen.

The story is admittedly fictionalized, according to an opening credit. And the viewer is required to trust that this or that particular important detail really happened. Goslar-Pick is not the only person to claim Anne Frank as “best friend.” Someone named Jacqueline Van Maarsen published a memoir under that label some years back.

But that’s not as important as what this story does for Anne. It celebrates her as exceptional, someone a friend would want to emulate when it came to bravery and making the best of an awful situation. And it gives back this soulful, deep thinker and memoirist her adolescence, staring in the night sky at “the Little Bear” (Ursa Minor), dreaming of the places she’ll go with her bestie when all of this is over.

With Nazis all over the Western world lured back out from the rocks they’ve been hiding under for decades, Anne and her friends — fellow victims and survivors — should have a voice in whether we tolerate that.

Cast: Josephine Arendsen, Aiko Beemsterboer

Credits: Directed by Ben Sombogaart, scripted by Marian Batavier and Paul Ruven. A DFW production for Netflix.

Running time: 1:43

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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