Thursday, March 30, 2017

Jessica Chastain's Performance in 'The Zookeeper's Wife' is Powerful

"The Zookeeper's Wife" Review
Jessica Chastain stars in The Zookeeper's Wife. (Focus Features)

MOVIE REVIEW

Just when you think you’ve heard of every Holocaust story there is, along comes another one. How do you go about telling yet another story about World War II? By finding another story to tell that hasn’t been told before. In this case, The Zookeeper’s Wife sounds like the beginning of joke. “Hey, have you heard about the guy who saved a bunch of Jews by hiding them in his zoo?” But it’s all true.

Despite the movie’s title, this movie is all about one brave and heroic woman. It is actually a story about a brave and heroic married couple and the trials and challenges Jan and Antonia Zabrinkski faced while trying to do the right thing. The story is based on the book of the same name written by Diane Akerman Akerman wrote the story from pieces of Antonia’s diary, so much of the story is told from the wife’s point of view, but this movie is about so much more.

"The Zookeeper's Wife" Review
Johan Heldenbergh
Before the war, Jan Zabrinski was a Polish agricultural engineer and zoologist and was the director of the Warsaw Zoo. When the war broke out, much of the zoo was destroyed and animals killed. Still, a number of cages stood firm. Appalled by the atrocities of the war and the despicable ways that Jewish families were treated, the Zabrinskis converted what was left of the zoo into a pig farm “to help feed the troops.” In reality though, it was a front used to transport hundreds of people to and from the zoo on their journey for safety and freedom. Some stayed in those empty animal cages while others lived in the basement of the Zabrinski home.

During the day, the “guests” (as the Zabrinkskis called them) slept or were very quiet. When the troops would leave the area late at night, Antonia would play a short tune on the piano to signal to those below that it was safe for them to come up and socialize. If she ever played the piano during the day, the guests knew that they needed to hide.


"The Zookeeper's Wife" Movie Review
Like most stories of this nature, The Zookeeper’s Wife is based around a depressing setting but unlike other tales, this one is a lot more hopeful, something that other critics have found fault with. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its sad or even terrifying moments, but overall, this story is heartwarming and realistic. Like all marriages, Jan and Antonia’s wasn’t perfect, but they worked together as a team driven by compassion for their fellow man. It is my understanding that the Zabrinskis were Christian, but unless I missed it, the film doesn’t comment on their faith.

The movie stars Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh who are both excellent as the Zabrinskis. Daniel Brühl plays Lutz Heck, the German “friend” of the Zabrinskis who shares a love for animals and offers to transport many of the surviving animals to another location until the war is over. It is he who the couple must work with in order to make the pig farm look convincing but by doing so, they basically give him permission to enter their home any time he pleases and to make forward gestures toward Antonia right in front of Jan. They soon find that they feel as if they have been bought by Heck. “He owns us now,” says Antonia.

The Zookeeper's Wife is directed by Niki Caro who also directed the uplifting but often forgotten McFarland, USA for Disney which came out in 2015.

There is so much more to this story, but of course I cannot get into it without spoiling the film. Just know that while the movie will be hard to watch at times, it all ends on a very good note and is definitely worth seeing.