The Diary of Anne Frank is a powerful non-fiction film based on the diary of a young Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family in 1942 to escape the Nazi persecution. Filmed in 1959, George Stevens brilliant usage of mise-en-scene successfully made this movie thought provoking and emotional. Mise-en-scene is one of the four film components that allow motion pictures to serve as a medium of communication. Films use this component to incorporate a visual theme. This encompasses everything that appears before the camera such as the arrangement of the set, props, actors, lighting, and costumes.
By looking at the visual theme in this movie, we will be able to determine what makes this movie so provoking and emotional. The Diary of Anne Frank is the story of a 13 year old Jewish girl that is forced into hiding with her family to escape the persecutions of the Jewish in the now Nazi occupied Holland. The opening scene shows Otto Frank walking into an empty factory building, looking alone and full of turmoil. Joined by friends, he begins to read Anne’s diary, attempting to seek comfort in her written words. This is where the story flashes back to three years prior, 1942.
As Anne’s story begins, her sister Margot, her father Otto, and her mother Edith are being forced into hiding. Mr. Kraler and his assistant Miep help the Frank’s and the Van Daan’s (Petronella, Hans, and their 16 year old son Peter) into hiding in an attic space above their spice factory. To avoid detection, during the working hours of the factory, they must maintain strict silence so not to be heard. As a present to his daughter, Mr. Frank gives Anne her first diary. She writes about their time in the attic, attempting to avoid detection while waiting for the allies to liberate them.
Meeting their basic needs soon becomes a challenge as rations for three people are split seven ways and the attic continues to provide not nearly enough privacy. Anne writes about the strained relationships of the inhabitants of the attic. The restraints of the small space have Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan constantly arguing with each other. Known as “Ms. Quack Quack” at her school, Anne’s outgoing and strong personality finds her in arguments with Peter, Mr. Van Daan, and her own mother. Mr. Kraler gives them a small radio that allows them to keep up with what is oing on in the outside world, keeping their hope of the impending invasions. Mr. Dussel, a Jewish dentist, comes to hide in the attic. Hopes are greatly diminished when he brings word of Jewish families disappearing during the day and night. Though he claims to get along well with children, his presence brings out more arguments with Anne, Peter, and the Van Daan’s. On Hanukkah, Van Daan tells Peter that Moushie must go because he is consuming too much food. Peter and Anne argue with him, but are abruptly cut short when they are alerted to someone in the building.
A noise made by Peter scares the burglar, who grabs a typewriter and runs. An intense scene shows the Green Police searching the building, while the families in the attic wait in fear of being found. After two years in hiding, Peter begins to notice Anne for more than the “annoying child” she once was. They begin to spend more time together talking. During a visit, Mr. Kraler indicates that an employee has become suspicious, noting that the bookshelf behind his desk was not there before. The employee requests more money to keep quiet.
The tensions between the inhabitants of the attic continue to grow. Mr. Van Daan is caught stealing food and an argument ensues. During the argument, the radio announces that the invasion has reached Normandy. The news encourages everyone, causing everyone to apologize for their behaviors over the months. In July of 1944 news comes that the Green Police have found the stolen typewriter. During an emotional scene, Peter tells Anna that he can no longer tolerate the situation and is contemplating leaving. Anne attempts to soothe him by discussing the good in the world.
Ironically, as he begins to calm down, sounds of the Green Police approaching are in the background. It becomes apparent that they have been discovered. As they wait, Anne and Peter hold on to each other in an emotional scene where everyone has come to accept their fate. The scene fades back to Mr. Frank, Mr. Kraler, and Miep in the factory after the war is over. Mr. Frank tells his friends of his journey back to Amsterdam and how he has found out that his wife and two children are no longer alive. Upon glancing back at her diary, Mr.
Frank notices her last statement indicating that as she is packing her things to go with the Green Police, she still believes there is good in everyone’s heart. George Stevens detailed scenes in The Diary of Anne Frank allows the audience to view the Holocaust from a fresh, new perspective. Until this time, there were no documentaries or films that focused on anything except for the horror taking place in concentration camps. Mr. Stevens focuses on the relationship of the characters and their development in his film.
He also places concentration on how they are affected by hopeful news of the impending invasion of the allies, yet having to continue thinking that their freedom could be ending at any time. Mr. Stevens relies heavily upon the usage of mise-en-scene to set a visual theme of grimness in this film. His ideas are conveyed through the usage of color, props, lighting, movement, and emotions. As this film is entirely in black and white, it emphasizes the precariously dismal time these characters are living in. It also helps to convey intensity of the moods of the characters.
For example, the opening scene shows an emotional Otto Frank walking through the empty spice factory, heading the stairs to the attic he and his family shared with four others for two years. As he reaches the attic, we are shown the small, cluttered area where they hid. The black and white intensifies the heartbreaking emotion Mr. Frank is experiencing as he looks back over the space he last shared with his family. During the movie, the attic provides little decorations; this lack of decor helps keep the viewer undistracted from the emotions and movement of the characters.
The lack of color in this film greatly adds to the bleak situation, emphasizing the old, rundown space they are living in. The props used in the background seem to be quite old. Like many attics, the space is covered with junk in and out of boxes being stored away in a forgotten manner. The small, cluttered attic space is very important to the visual theme of this film. It helps intensify emotions and moods of the characters. For example, there is a scene where Anne becomes greatly irritated and stalks to her “room. ” She finds Mr. Dussell there and is forced to go elsewhere.
She turns to stomp away; however, she must pass through the tight main living area once more as she heads up the stairs to find somewhere that she can be alone. The dilapidated condition of this building sets the stage for one of the more powerful scenes in this film. On the very top floor after Anne and Peter stand side by side watching the sky out of the broken skylight. Though the movie is in black and white, somehow the sky seems much brighter than their surroundings. Shadows hang in the corners of the room while birds fly through the sky. The bright sky is almost a symbolism of the good in the world.
Though viewers know the fate of the characters, it provides hope that there will be a happily ever after. While watching the film, the viewer can find spots where the lighting is darker that it should be. This is typically during scenes where Stevens wants the viewer to pay strict attention to the emotions of the characters. One of the most prevailing uses of lighting is the scene where Anne and Peter are laying with their ears to the floor, listening to the Green Police search the room below, while the beam of the flashlight dances around their faces, showing their tense emotions.
The greatest usage of mise-en-scene by Stevens is the emotions of the actors. Mr. Stevens chose the perfect actors for this film. Unlike a great deal of black and white films, feelings and reactions were not over-dramatized. The cramped living space creates a great deal of tension amongst the characters. We see jealousy, animosity, and suspicion leading to many emotion-filled arguments. Each time sirens sounded in the background, we see the actors froze with fear and anticipation.
There has been much debate over the effectiveness of a 20 year old Millie Perkins playing Anne. Though viewers can tell it is a bit of stretch to pass her off as a 13 year old at the beginning of this movie, Stevens has her acting make up for the age difference. As she plays childish pranks on Peter (such as stealing his shoes), rolling her eyes at the adults, or having tantrums when she feels her mother talks of nothing but Margot, Millie has the viewer associating the character with a young girl of 13.
Throughout the movie she is shown scrunching up her face, raising her eyebrows, smiling, frowning, and looking mischievous. As George Stevens intended, I found a new perspective of the Holocaust. All other films and literature I have reviewed of this event focused on the pain and suffering experienced by those in the concentration camps. Never before have I analyzed how this genocide affected those that were in hiding. As I viewed this movie, Mr. Stevens excellent usage of mise-en-scene allowed me to notice the emotional and physical change in the characters.
While Anne grew and aged emotionally, it was painful to see other characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan fall into turmoil and walk so close to the line of breaking down emotionally. I recall watching this film in elementary school and feeling sad at the end. As I watched this film for the second time, allowing myself to pay closer attention to the affects of the lighting, props, and character emotion, I felt the film was more powerful than I originally realized. In nalyzing this film, we have learned how George Stevens used props, lighting, emotions, movement, and color to capture the viewers while creating an emotional film. Filming The Diary of Anne Frank in black and white was an excellent way for Mr. Stevens to give the film an “old” feeling and to emphasize the dark, fearful situation the characters are facing during this time. Without the usage of the above mise-en-scene components, the mood of this film would not have been properly conveyed, leaving it less powerful and captivating.
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). (n.d.). Retrieved July 2012, from Turner Classic Movies: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/73083/The-Diary-of-Anne-Frank/notes.html