Rating : 4/5
Staring : Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh
Director : Niki Caro
Warnings : Some nudity. Scenes of sexual and distressing nature. It will make you cry.
The Blurb :
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonia and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion.
My Review :
Waking up with lion cubs, riding her bike around the zoo with a young camel called Adam and saving baby elephants, is all part of Antonia’s idyllic life on her husbands zoo. The world however is on the brink war, Hitler is about to invade Poland and ignoring her husbands warning, Antonia and her young son stay at the zoo. Antonia’s idyllic life is destroyed in an instant as her precious zoo is bombed. A visit from Hitler’s head zoologist Lutz Heck, confirms that the zoo must be liquefied as part of the war effort and the zoo is turned into base for Nazi soldiers during the day.
Distressed by the plight of their Jewish friends and neighbours, Antonia and her husband Dr Jan convince Lutz Heck to turn their zoo into a pig farm. Under this guise Dr Jan travels to the Jewish Ghetto to get the scraps to feed the pigs, however it is not only the scraps he is collecting. Together Dr Jan and Antonia managed to smuggle 300 Jews from the Ghetto to their zoo and onto a place of safety. It is a remarkable story.
There are moments in this movie that are brutal and shocking, that sit a little uncomfortably beside the more whimsical scenes, giving the movie a disjointed feel. Due to this the tone of the movie at times is confusing.
Antonia Zabinska is portrayed by Jessica Chastain and while I have no issue with her acting ability, I was at times distracted by her Polish accent. The character of Antonia though based on a real person, appears to be flawless. It is not until Dr Heck who is obviously infatuated with her returns his attentions, in an attempt to hide what her and her husband are doing, does a shadow cast over her character. This behaviour ignites jealousy in her husband, providing a bit of frisson and making them both a little more human.
The scenes involving the Ghetto and the realities for the Jews who resided there is truly heartbreaking. Johan Heldenbergh, whose character Dr Jan was having to face these horrendous circumstances on his visit’s to the Ghetto. He portrays the emotion so well, that we have no need to see what he does, as it is clear it is tearing him apart. One specific scene that brought a tear to my eye is when he finds himself helping the Jewish children onto the train to the work camp. The complete and utter feeling of helplessness is clear to see.
Overall this is a true story, a tale of heroism in the most trying of circumstances which should be told. A “human zoo” hidden under the noses of the Nazi’s is remarkable feat.