The Zookeeper’s Wife
Director: Niki Caro
Writer: Angela Workman
Based on: Diane Ackerman‘s non-fiction book
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl, Timothy Radford, Efrat Dor, Iddo Goldberg, Shira Haas, Michael McElhatton
Seen on: 18.4.2017
Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) run the Warsaw Zoo together and things have been going well. That is, until the Germans march into Poland in 1939 and turn their lives upside down. Antonina and Jan remain pretty privileged, although their Zoo is taken apart, the rarest animals shipped to the zoo in Berlin run by Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) and the grounds are used for German soldiers. But once they realize how bad the situation for the Jews in Warsaw is, they start helping in any way they can.
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells a pretty amazing story about exceptional people and will leave no tearduct untouched. I enjoyed it, as much as you can enjoy a film about the holocaust.
I had never heard about Antonina or her role in World War II. In fact, before this film I never thought about how things would have been for a zoo and its animals. So that perspective alone was already quite interesting. That the Zabinski family also turned out to be so much of a resistance definitely makes things greater though.
Caro confidently sets the film in scene. At times her direction is almost a little too conventional, a little too tried and tested. That doesn’t make it any less effective or affective, but it does mean that you can see certain things coming a mile off. I didn’t mind that, though. What I did mind, in fact, hated, was that since they shot this film with international actors they opted for having the characters speak English – but with Polish accents to denote that they were actually speaking Polish. That just makes no sense at all and is annoying as fuck.
Other than that, though, I have nothing bad to say about the cast. Chastain manages to imbue Antonina with such a headstrong vibrancy that you can’t help but feel that even if she hadn’t had the privileges she had, she would have found a way to subvert the Nazis in any walk of life. Brühl is sufficiently creepy in a very friendly way as Heck and through him the film shows what happens when you give people power and no real limits, as his well-meaning demeanor falls away bit by bit.
The film is certainly very evocative and personally, I cried my way through it. But I think, considering the story, that’s pretty much as it should be.
Summarizing: Definitely worth it.