A world at odds with itself

Movies cry for help at the Toronto International Film Festival.

0
1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right

Westermarkt 20 in Amsterdam is home to the Anne Frank House, the secret annex where the Frank and van Pels families hid from the Nazis for more than two years before being captured and sent to the camps. 

Today, Anne Frank is an inspiration to millions. The diary she wrote while in hiding has been translated into 70 languages and sold 35 million copies. And the annex is now a museum, one where visitors line up by the thousands to glimpse the living quarters and read from the diary penned by the world’s most famous refugee. And as they line the cobblestone streets waiting to get in, they turn a blind eye to the tents, cardboard boxes, and makeshift homes housing myriad refugees fleeing war-torn countries.

At least that’s how director Ari Folman sees it in Where is Anne Frank, a new animated drama. The citizens populating Where is Anne Frank are not hostile toward the refugees, but neither are they welcoming. They’re excellent at ignoring them altogether—while praising the resilience of Anne Frank. Everything in the city is named after her: streets, bridges, canals, schools, libraries, theaters, you name it. It’s a hypocrisy Kitty (voiced by Ruby Stokes) can’t stand. She’s the physical manifestation of Frank’s diary, and thanks to the magic of Anne Frank’s animation team, a witness to suffering so common it often goes overlooked.

Where is Anne Frank is a movie full of hope—even if its primary concern is pointing out a broken world. And it was in good company at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped September 18. It seems that the problems of the world are becoming insurmountable, even for imaginative filmmakers.

Take Costa Brava, Lebanon, from filmmaker Mounia Akl. Set in the near future, Beirut is plagued by social unrest and toxic pollution. Trash piles up in the streets, and protests are constant. To appease the citizens, the Lebanese government promises to relocate the trash to a “green” landfill in the hills outside of Beirut. Right next door to the Badri family.

Then come the tractors and trucks, the digging, the blasting, and the trash, mountains upon mountains of plastic bags—none of it the least bit “green.” The Badris left the problems of Beirut long ago for the last green spot in Lebanon. Now the problems of Beirut have found them.

Everyone fights their wars in their way. Both Where is Anne Frank and Costa Brava, Lebanon hope that visibility can overcome apathy, even denial. That’s not quite the same in Silent Night from writer/director Camille Griffin. Environmental destruction is again at the center. Only this time around, no amount of visibility or awareness will save anybody.

Thankfully, Silent Night is a foul-mouthed black comedy. It would be an unbearable watch if it weren’t. Not everything here works, but there’s something enjoyable about watching Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode slap on a smile and host their last
Christmas.

Written pre-pandemic and filmed just as England was locking down, Silent Night’s central conflict plays vastly different in today’s world than it did in the one Griffin conceived it. It’s like a distress signal from the past. So is Where is Anne Frank and Costa Brava, Lebanon. Who knows what shape the world will be in when they make their way to local theaters, but I doubt they’ll lose an ounce of their urgency.