The famous director of “Waltz with Bashir” connects past and present, reality and fantasy with a daring combination of 2D and stop-motion animation.
When director Ari Folman (“Waltz with Bashir”) was first approached to tackle an Anne Frank film almost ten years ago, he immediately refused. He thought that everything had been done before, that there was nothing more to explore. But the Anne Frank Fonds Basel, the Swiss non-profit association that owns the copyright to her newspaper, has exhausted its resistance. So was Folman’s mother, who was an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor.
“I realized that if something doesn’t change in the way we teach young children about the past, it will fade. It will sound like ancient history to them, ”Folman said. “Finally, I reread the newspaper. I was intrigued by the possibilities of using animation to tell this story. My demands were to animate it, to do it for the children, and to portray the last seven months of Anne Frank’s life in the camps. [Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen], which is a story that has never been artistically told. And then to link the past to the present, which was not easy.
But Folman needed a new narrative device to connect fact to fantasy, which he found in the form of Kitty, Frank’s imaginary friend to whom she wrote the diary. “Anne gives such a beautiful description of her imaginary friend,” Folman continued. It’s like a manual on how to create it in an animation studio. So we followed him. But I put the red hair on, and gave her parts of my daughter, but the rest Anne made up. She was Anne’s alter ego. She was everything Anne wanted to be but couldn’t because she was isolated as a teenager. So I made Kitty more alive… she’s a rebel.
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Kitty (Ruby Stokes) literally comes to life from the inked contents of the diary, which resides at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Cutting between the past and the present, Kitty investigates what happened to Frank (Emily Carey), trying to understand the horror and the legacy, while simultaneously observing the refugee crisis in the city. She ends up becoming an activist dedicated to helping children, while also falling in love with her own Peter (Ralph Prosser), who is a refugee.
“I started writing the screenplay in 2014, and when the refugee crisis started a year or two later, I edited the third act accordingly,” Folman said. “As you can see with the Taliban, this fits very well with the current situation. It never ends. Unfortunately, unfortunately, this is still really relevant. But I thought I had to be smart in the way I chose it. I took the liberty of not comparing because there is no comparison between today’s refugees and the history of WWII Jews. But bringing it from the Arab world was too much for a movie, and, also, there are a lot of refugees from Central Africa and Mali in Amsterdam, who are in terrible danger of being deported to their homes, and I decided to go . “
When it comes to animation, however, Folman has embarked on a daring journey with artistic director Lena Grubman and animation director Yoni Goodman. The initial plan was to combine 2D for the characters and stop-motion for the environments. It would make Frank look like he was isolated in a dollhouse. However, a first test in which Frank and Peter (Sebastian Croft) get inside their radio turned out to be so successful that the director wanted to switch entirely to stop-motion. The test was performed by cinematographer Tristan Oliver and stop-motion designer Andy Gent, both from “Isle of Dogs” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Wes Anderson.
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“We did another test with Anne and Kitty as puppets,” Folman added, “but I couldn’t raise the additional funding. The budget was $ 20 million and we needed $ 40 to do the stop-motion, so we went back to my original plan of doing a combination of 2D and stop-motion, with Tristan Oliver as cinematographer and Andy Gent doing miniatures of the Amsterdam house annex, the train and inside the radio.
Folman started with animation studios in Israel, Brussels and Luxembourg, but has expanded to 14 due to the pandemic. He also chose a color scheme that portrayed Frank’s isolation in vivid colors contrasting with the underlying monochromatic sadness in Amsterdam today. Yet the most difficult decision was how to represent the Nazis. Folman called his mother for advice. “I asked her how she saw them when she was a teenager in the camp,” he said. “And she said to me,” I thought they were perfect… they were gods from our low angle [looking up]. ‘
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“And then, after the war, she told me that looking at the news from the Nuremberg trials, all these people she had seen in the camp – and one woman in particular, who was the youngest person to have never tried for crimes against humanity – that she was very ugly. So we used this point of view to conceive of the Nazis as giants of the Underworld with masks and ferocious dogs. And U.S [drew] on Greek mythology which Frank loved very much.
But after spending eight years lively reinventing Anne Frank’s diary, Folman has been very cautious about partnering with a North American distributor for this Oscar season. “I have considered a few offers, but it is very important that it is someone who understands that this is not an arthouse film, it is a children’s film,” he said. . “And with all this work, you have to see it in a theater, but I’m afraid people won’t go to the movies and watch everything at home. I hope for the best.