In his Adapter’s Note at the end of Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, Ari Folman, the Israeli director, screenwriter and composer, says that when Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Otto Frank in Basel, Switzerland, in 1963, asked him to write and direct an animated film for children based on Anne Frank’s diary, as well as to edit the diary into a graphic adaptation, he had “grave reservations”.
The text was iconic; “how could I ‘edit’ the book?” Also, “if we were to illustrate the entire text in a graphic rendition it would require the better part of a decade and likely to be 3,500 pages long”. The “trickiest task” for Folman was “to retain only a portion of Anne’s original diary while still being faithful to the entire work”.
Folman and illustrator David Polonsky, a teacher of animation and illustration at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, nonetheless waded into the project, and the outcome, a review of the book in The New York Times says, is “a stunning, haunting work of art that is unfortunately marred by some questionable interpretive choices”. As a possibly unavoidable consequence of constraints that he acknowledges himself, Folman “at times reproduces whole entries verbatim, but more often he diverges freely from the original, collapsing multiple entries onto a single page and replacing Anne’s droll commentary with more accessible (and often more dramatic) language”. Polonsky’s illustrations though, are “richly detailed and sensitively rendered”, says the review, and “work marvelously to fill in the gaps, allowing an image or a facial expression to stand in for the missing text and also providing context about Anne’s historical circumstances that is, for obvious reasons, absent from the original”.
Anne is depicted in Folman and Polonsky’s adaptation as a schoolgirl, friend, sister, girlfriend and “a reluctantly obedient daughter”. While the diary is the reason she lives on nearly 74 years after succumbing to typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Hannover, it is only once that they actually show her in the act of writing. In doing so, says The NYT review, they perpetuate the misconception that the book was a “hastily scribbled private diary” rather than “a carefully composed and considered text” — and end up doing, even after their “brilliantly conceived and gorgeously realised” project, “a disservice to the remarkable writer at its centre”.