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Posted at: Apr 21, 2017, 6:51 PM; last updated: Apr 21, 2017, 6:51 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW - THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE

A zoo worth a visit

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Film: The Zookeeper’s Wife

  • Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, Daniel Brühl
  • Director: Niki Caro
A zoo worth a visit
A still from The Zookeeper’s Wife

Johnson Thomas

This film opens to a welcoming sight of animals being led to their stations while the owners, Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and wife Antonina (Jessica Chastian), go through their daily routine of frolicking and communicating with the animals in their care. And then the hell starts!

In September 1939, the Nazis invade Poland and the zoo is bombed repeatedly. The German zoologist, amongst Hitler’s chosen few, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), takes away the best of the breeds and the rest are slaughtered. It’s a heart-rending moment, but the villainy of course is not limited to animals. Jews are rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Children are raped and the incarcerated are treated with absolute ruthlessness. Amidst all this turmoil, Jan and Antonina are doing their best to help the resistance.

They use the underground passage in their zoo to smuggle in Jews from the camps and keep them there till the war is over. It’s a mission fraught with danger but they stay committed. Lutz preys on Antonino’s vulnerability while Jan is busy collecting garbage from the camps for the pig farm that he has started - ostensibly to feed the German soldiers. There’s high drama there, but it’s a tempered representation.

The war stays in the background while the drama of the lives at peril takes centre-stage. The rescue is after all being staged right under Lutz’s nose and he probably has turned a blind eye due to his infatuation for Antonino. 

This story may not be as well-known as ‘Schindler’s List’, but it’s just as heartening. Niki Caro gives the film a rather old-fashioned cinematic treatment. Blood and grime are not part of the palette here. Chastian leaves a strong impression with her performance. Johan Heldenbergh is equally impressive as the zookeeper husband who takes it upon himself to fool the Nazis in their own lair. 

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is a true story adapted from Diane Ackerman’s book by the same name and as such has both historical heft as well as universal appeal; there’s passion, romance, compassion and high drama that keeps you glued to the tale!

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