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The Zookeeper’s Wife movie review: When Holocaust is turned into a teary tribulation

Written by Shalini Langer
| New Delhi |
Updated: April 21, 2017 5:37 pm


The Zookeeper's Wife,Niki Caro, Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh The Zookeeper’s Wife movie review: The film only picks up pace when the Antonina (Jessica Chastain) ‘s husband, zookeeper Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), drives into the Warsaw ghetto.


The Zookeeper’s Wife movie director: Niki Caro

The Zookeeper’s Wife movie cast: Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh
The Zookeeper’s Wife movie rating: 2
The Zabinskis saved 300 Jews during World War II by hiding them in the zoo they ran in Warsaw. This little-known story isn’t just Schindler’s List, it’s Schindler’s List with animals of varying degrees of furriness thrown in. Oh, the potential! Oh, the lions! Oh, the waste!

The Zabinskis saved 300 Jews during World War II by hiding them in the zoo they ran in Warsaw. This little-known story isn’t just Schindler’s List, it’s Schindler’s List with animals of varying degrees of furriness thrown in. Oh, the potential! Oh, the lions! Oh, the waste!

If you will remember anything after watching this film, it will be Antonina (Jessica Chastain) helping save an elephant calf (with a lot of happy crying) and Antonina walking around with animals on her lap (with a lot of sad smiling). Even at the worst of times, she finds a rabbit or two to cuddle and softly murmur over. Beyond a point, it stops being an affection and is more an affectation, reducing the Holocaust to her teary tribulations.

The film only picks up pace when the husband, zookeeper Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), drives into the Warsaw ghetto. It is ostensibly to collect garbage for the pigs he now rears in his destroyed zoo, but he comes out with Jews hidden under all that rubbish. However, none of the Jews gets any kind of context, bar one girl whose sexual assault is brutally hinted at, and night after night, they come out of hiding at the Zabinski household to look wondrously at Antonina play the piano.

Yes, she does that too.

Based on a true story, the film was adapted from a book that, in turn, drew from Antonina’s diaries. The tendency to look at Antonina thus in these warm colours is understandable. However, an over-strung Chastain makes the undue focus on her character even worse, as the others just pale in comparison. Jan, who puts his life more at risk with every run he makes of the ghetto, is dealt with particularly unfavourably.

And one can’t help but feel sorry for the excellent Bruhl, whose unfortunate fate is to play a bad Nazi. Here, he is “Hitler’s favourite zoologist”, who is drawn to Antonina because of her being a sort-of “animal whisperer”. He also stalks her and in one particularly effective scene only stops short of sexually assaulting her. But again you know almost nothing of the man who, in the beginning, seems purely a man of science.

Also read: Sonata movie review: Shabana Azmi can sing and it’s the only takeaway from Sonata

Still, what is most grating is the various accents deployed by the various actors in their effort to sound, what, Polish? It only makes their English sound awful, not helped by the dialogues. The only one quite at ease is the German Bruhl who, as we said earlier, has been here before. The poor Jan, persuading Antonina to leave as the war comes in, tells her at one point, “It’s feeling very dangerous to me right now.”

The film tries a lot to play with metaphors, about who is the real animal in this zoo, about a race being targeted and a species being revived through breeding, etc etc. Should you miss any, guess who is there to point you in the right direction, holding a rabbit?

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The Zookeeper’s Wife movie review: When Holocaust is turned into a teary tribulation