George Stevens was a brilliant director (his 'A Place in the Sun' is one of the greatest films ever made), but his film version of 'The Diary of Anne Frank' is not one of his better efforts. It was supposed to be a claustrophobic drama about several desperate people hiding in close quarters... but 20th Century-Fox ordered Stevens to film the play in widescreen Cinemascope, thus undercutting its own subject matter. Amazingly, Stevens was not required to film the project in Technicolor.
The Serbian telefilm 'Dnevnik Ane Frank' is based on the same material as Stevens's film. Neither is a direct biography of Anne Frank; instead, both are adaptations of the Broadway play based on Anne Frank's diary. As Yugoslavia did not have reciprocal copyright treaties with the United States at the time, Belgrade Radiotelevision were able to adapt this work without compensation to either Goodrich & Hackett (the married couple who wrote the play) or Anne Frank's father (the only one of the characters in this real-life drama who survived the Holocaust). As this is an unauthorised adaptation, it was never made legally available to the home-video market.
Recently, through mutual friends, I was able to meet a Serbian journalist who permitted me to view a PAL video bootleg of the original Yugoslav kinescope. I speak about twelve words of Serbian, so I had great difficulty following the dialogue of this teleplay. It does seem, however, to be a fairly faithful (abridged) adaptation of the Broadway production.
The production values are quite bad: the camera barely moves and seldom cuts, and most of the lighting and photography are too dark. However, all of those problems actually work in favour of this subject matter. It absolutely makes sense for Anne, her parents, and the Dutch Jews to huddle in dark, cramped quarters. The Serbian actors and crew who made this telefilm were much closer to the Holocaust (geographically and culturally) than were George Stevens and the actors and crew in his Hollywood version of this material. (Although Stevens himself was a combat photographer during WW2.) That cultural difference works in this production's favour. I was easily persuaded that the huddling Slavs in this (literally) dark drama were only one brief step from the next train to Auschwitz. Its ironic that this production was made during the dictatorship of Marshall Tito, whose regime was only slightly less repressive than Hitler's. The most serious flaw in this version is a stiff and mannered performance by the actor cast as Anne's father.
SPOILERS NOW. The ending of this production is the same as in the Broadway version, with Anne Frank making the last fatal entry in her diary -- 'In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart' -- just before the Nazi soldiers burst in. By the way, there's a widespread misconception that this ironic sentence was indeed the last entry in Anne Frank's diary. Although the entry is authentic, it was not actually the last entry in her diary ... but the Hacketts had the cleverness to omit Anne's later diary entries so as to heighten the irony of this sentence.
In some ways, this Serbian-language production is more powerful and compelling than George Stevens's film. I hope that a dubbed or subtitled version of this telefilm can become legally available in Britain and the USA. A few years ago, someone located actual motion-picture footage of Anne Frank in her happier days, filmed by a home-movie camera without a sound system. It's encouraging that this little girl, whose life was stolen on the brink of womanhood, is in some ways more alive and vital than ever before. I shan't give a rating to 'Dnevnik Ane Frank', due to my difficulty following the dialogue, but this telefilm is a sincere and worthy tribute to that remarkable diary and its author.
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