<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Niki Caro. Starring Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Haldenbergh, Iddo Goldberg, Michael McElhatton, Shira Haas
Running time: 2 hours
Nothing’s more depressing than watching helpless zoo animals be mercilessly shot and innocent Jews being exterminated by the Nazis.
This true story about two zookeepers in war-torn Poland doesn’t really make you cry. I felt far more emotional watching the animals being murdered than I did the human beings. Not sure whether that says something about me or about the way the film has been made.
Based on a book (by Diane Ackerman), as are most films nowadays –if they’re not based on comic books – The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the tale of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Haldenbergh), proud owners of a sprawling zoo in Poland. Wife Antonina has a special bond with the animals that have become like family to them. But the approaching Nazi forces in Europe soon put an end to most of their beloved zoo. Their German friend Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) becomes Hitler’s chief zoologist and promises to help them save some of their animals, but he’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Jan knows of Jews that need refuge and he enlists the aid of his wife who then becomes the protector and keeper of these people. She couldn’t save her animals but she does everything to save the people in her care.
It is yet another film that depicts the horrors of World War II and Hitler’s Germany. Barbarism ruled the day as these ruthless men behaved far more like animals than the pigs they slaughtered for food. But we also witness the bravery of a few who shepherded as many human souls as they could to safety. Unfortunately, in The Zookeeper’s Wife, there isn’t enough time given to the emotion and pathos of the circumstances. It looks like the editors were in a rush to cram in everything they could. There’s a scene where Jan and Antonina save their friend (Iddo Goldberg) and he realises he’s not the only one at the zoo. He starts to cry but before the realisation of his happiness is caught, the scene cuts to yet another.
Heck’s master-slave romance with Antonina provides us with some tension but an unconvincing performance by Jessica Chastain (with a horrible Polish accent) doesn’t quite bring home her situation.
The Zookeeper’s Wife has no light moments and nothing really new to tell. Except to reinforce that this was indeed one of the darkest times in the history of the world and one we should never allow to repeat.