The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife


They gave all they had to save all they could.

Whale Rider director Niki Caro teams up with two-time Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain (The Martian) for this adaptation of Diane Ackerman's best-selling novel.... More

The real-life story of one working wife and mother who became a hero to hundreds during World War II. In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabińska (Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are stunned – and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, Antonina and Jan covertly begin working with the Resistance – and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.Hide

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Flicks Review

Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) recently completed Disney’s McFarland, USA and it won’t be long until she finishes Disney’s live-action Mulan. Her in-between feature, The Zookeeper’s Wife, is no Disney flick. Based on the true story of Polish animal tender Antonina Żabiński (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Belgium actor Johan Heldenbergh), the film follows the couple’s colossally brave decision to transform their bomb-mangled zoo into a safe haven for Jews during WWII. It doesn’t rewrite Schindler’s List, but Caro delivers enough compassionate hugs and kicks to the gut to make the story worthwhile.... More

I must warn all fellow animal-lovers: plenty of wildlife die cold, lonely deaths in this film. You hardly ever see these deaths directly, though seeing Chastain’s crushing in-the-moment grief feels just as devastating – if not worse. It’s a captivating trick Caro pulls off numerous times, often refusing to show the violence but forcing the viewer to piece together the horror that took place. It’s telling when the sight of a blown-up animal corpse feels nowhere near at gut-wrenching as seeing Jan help kids board a train for a very depressing reason.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much more to amplify itself above similar WWII tales of heroism and the story isn’t distinctive enough to stand alongside other recent greats like Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest or Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents. There’s a dawdling sort-of-but-not-really love triangle, told in a way that awkwardly suggests Jan waited a year to talk to Antonina about it. Daniel Brühl does reliably well as nice guy zoologist friend who flips to being a Nazi scumbag, though the script doesn’t get into his mind enough to justify his final moments.

It may not be encouraging to call The Zookeeper’s Wife an above-average drama about everyday war heroes. However, if you haven’t seen a WWII film in a while – or at all – then you’ll probably find this absolutely compelling.Hide

The Peoples' Reviews

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BY cinemusefilm superstar

The diversity of Holocaust-themed movies has increased over recent years as filmmakers try different storytelling approaches to keep alive our collective memory of what happened. One film that has divided the critics is The Zoo Keeper’s Wife (2016). While most of this genre uses graphic realism to confront large-scale human carnage and moral dystopia, this beautifully filmed story tells how 300 Jewish lives were saved by the owners of the Warsaw Zoo.

The film opens in 1939 with stunning... More photography of an idyllic existence in the charming Warsaw Zoo. Owners Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are devoted zoologists who love their animals and each other. There are many touching scenes of physical affection that portray trust and understanding across the human-animal divide. The peace is soon shattered by Nazi bombing and there are many disturbing scenes of animal destruction. Soon after the Nazis arrive, the Zoo’s best breeding specimens are sent to Berlin under Hitler’s zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). With Nazi soldiers needing housing, the Zoo is under threat but saved when Antonina obtains Heck’s support to convert it into a pig farm to feed Nazi soldiers. He becomes a frequent visitor to the Zoo and his sexual overtures towards Antonina means she must keep him charmed to save the Zoo. As the atrocities against Polish Jews escalate, Antonina and Jan hatch a plan to use garbage trucks to smuggle Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to freedom via Zoo tunnels. The story focuses on the dangers of hiding the Jews and the horror facing those who are loaded into cattle-trucks for transportation to Hitler’s Final Solution.

The critical ambivalence towards this film dwells on its aesthetic treatment of the opening scenes and what some argue is Chastain’s saintly characterisation of Antonina. While the cinematography is superb from beginning to end, it does adopt an excessively sugary style in the pre-Nazi-occupation part of the story. The opening scenes of Antonina cycling through the zoo, personally greeting the caged and free-roaming animals, smiling and waving to all of humanity, are both beautiful but incongruous for the story we know is about to unfold. From the extraordinary scenes of Antonina saving a new-born elephant in front of its distressed parents to the harrowing escape scenes, the film almost deifies the heroine for her goodness towards others. But this are directing issues rather than acting. Chastain’s performance is excellent across the range of emotions she portrays and she is a brightly lit beacon in a film that could easily have been depressingly bleak.

The Zoo Keepers Wife is a worthy addition to an honourable genre that includes the multi-award winning Schindler’s List (1993). It communicates the larger Holocaust narrative while keeping its scenes of human carnage and dystopia off-screen. In an age of audience desensitisation, it is ironic that viewers can be emotionally touched more deeply by the death of animals than humans. This is a story of courage and triumph told, from a woman’s viewpoint, with top-tier production values in filming, acting, and narrative. It is also an important part of Polish history. In more recent times, Antonina and Jan were decorated as national heroes and the re-built Warsaw Zoo still stands as a legacy to their achievements.Hide

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The Press Reviews

  • Jessica Chastain is relaxed with some actual lion cubs, and there's a bunny that should win an Oscar. But when the film pivots to the scared human beings down below, you get a hint of the weirder, tougher drama it might have been. Full Review

  • True-story drama about a Polish wife who helped shelter Jews from the Nazis in her family zoo can't escape clichés - but does boast an excellent lead performance from Jessica Chastain Full Review

  • Belief begets belief, and the faith that star Jessica Chastain and director Niki Caro have in "The Zookeeper's Wife" turn this World War II drama into an emotional experience that is straight-ahead but satisfying. Full Review

  • A polite but pallid recycling of Holocaust movie tropes with epic pretensions. Full Review

  • The movie's central figures and their experiences have been cleansed of complexity, embalmed in a sort of hagiographic glaze that makes even the pain look pretty. Full Review

  • Caro's movie fails to muster even a fraction of the suspense such life-and-death material naturally demands. Full Review

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