Rarely one person can be used to encapsulate a universal story, yet Anne Frank has undoubtedly become synonymous with the atrocities of the Holocaust. Frank is perpetually a child in our shared memory, however this documentary (helmed by Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren and directed by Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migott) was commissioned to mark what would have been Frank’s 90th birthday and 75th anniversary since the liberation of concentration camps. It is a haunting premise.
Mirren and co. broaden our understanding to not just one person or time. The testimonies of Arianna Szörenyi, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, Helga Weiss and sisters Andra and Tatiana Bucci are the real highlight here. Their calm composure and vivid recollection of their experiences during the Second World War are in equal measure captivating and heartbreaking. The temporality of these experiences are evoked by interviews with the women’s relatives. The continuation and exploration of this heritage and how it affects a young person living in 2020 as opposed to 1945.
A scene that has since stayed with me was Lichtsztejn-Montard describing how she has learnt to love people and hate Nazis. People must be above extremist ideology and hatred. She says her children are her revenge and her grandchildren are how she continues to mock them and in this moment sticks her tongue out at the camera. It’s a generous view in the face of unimaginable horror. The future is precious here. Her life continues in her family’s life. This marks the real victory against those that wanted and actively pursued the eradication of her culture, identity and race, yet here they are surviving nonetheless.
Mirren’s contribution, whilst confident and heartfelt, feels somewhat unnecessary, particularly in compared to the women who actually lived through it. Alongside this, another young woman travels across Europe throughout the documentary, a voyeur to the tragedy and perhaps intended as the audience’s physical presence in the documentary. This immersion is not entirely successful as I found the inclusion of her posting pictures and instagramming through out to be somewhat jarring and perhaps a debate for another film. Nonetheless, the point was to close the gap of time that has allowed us to perhaps absolves ourselves of these sins. As one of young woman reflects, had she been born 65 years earlier she too would have been a victim of these crimes. We are all responsible for stopping racial prejudice and violence.
The documentary pushes the importance of memory. Indeed, as the wartime generation passes away, it leaves living memory. With this distance, we remove ourselves from its consequences and risk the age old threat of history repeating itself. In short, this is an important documentary. It places its context within the present day. War persists, refugees exists and the insidious rise of far right movements linger on.
Parallel Stories is one of many women, with importance and reverence placed on Frank, and it is an incredibly moving and historically vibrant piece of work.
Anne Frank: Parallel Stories is in select cinemas now
by Catherine McNaughton
Catherine McNaughton is currently studying at the University of Manchester. Inspired by feminism and Debbie Harry. Her favourite films include Amelie, Before Sunset and Moonlight. You can find her on twitter: @__CatherineMac