Director: Niki Caro
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenburgh, Daniel Bruhl
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion. (Source: IMDb)
We’ve seen countless war dramas over the years, but the most intriguing of these will always be the not as well known smaller stories, and as such, one of these small stories is the focus of The Zookeeper’s Wife. Telling the true story of the Zabinski’s and their zoo in Nazi-controlled Warsaw, and specfically how they were able to save the lives of hundreds of Jews in the most remarkable of ways.
Despite the opening scenes being all warm colours and cute animals, this film is perhaps not as fluffy as the title might suggest, and whilst it does seem somewhat sanitised on the human tragedy side of things, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the brutality when the zoo is struck by German bombings. Animal lovers you have been warned!
The story was immediately interesting, with the somewhat false sense of security of the beginning setting an intriguing stage for the rest of the story. The characters make this film however, and Jessica Chastain is particularly charming. It is her story after all, and much of the film’s warmth, drama and emotion is seen through her eyes. Her Polish accent is pretty flawless throughout and she’s totally believable in this role. Daniel Bruhl seems to always do a good job of playing, well a bit of an asshole really, and as Lutz Heck, he is certainly a massive one! From the start there is a general sense of unease whenever he is seen on the screen, and in the absence of the real threat – the oft mentioned but never seen Hitler – Heck provides the tangible presence of malice.
There’s some genuinely touching and shocking moments in this film, and overall it is a fitting testament to the incredible bravery of ordinary people whose stories perhaps aren’t as widely known.
In the third act in particular, the film takes some rather jarring leaps forward in terms of the plot. Considering the film takes its time with the set up and characters initially this might catch you slightly unawares. One of the characters was suddenly being played by a different actor, and the passing of time hadn’t been made particularly clear which was a little confusing!
The fact that this sudden fast forward of the plot came just at the point that the Nazis systematic killing of the Jews in concentration camps began, did somewhat remove from the massive loss of human life at the hands of this unimaginable evil. Whilst what the Zabinski’s did is always admirable, the true scope of it perhaps wasn’t evident enough until the closing epilogue, which is a shame.
I saw this movie and you should too. Whilst not perhaps a film to rush out and see at the cinema, The Zookeeper’s Wife is an important and enjoyable film, with excellent performances throughout, particularly from Chastain. Definitely worth your time, but maybe wait for it to be on Netflix.