Saturday 7 July 2018

The Zookeeper's Wife

Warsaw, 1939, and the Germans are about to invade Poland in this story based on true events. Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) and Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) continue to run their zoo. Many of the animals escape and die as the place is bombed. As time goes on, the Germans decide to move Jews to the camps, and Jan and Antonina decide to use the backdrop of the remains of the zoo as a sanctuary for as many Jews as they can until the resistance can find them safehouses.

The lead is taken by Antonina, the Zookeeper's Wife, and it is clear that she lives for the love of her animals. One emotional scene shows her doing everything humanly possible to rescue an elephant who is on the verge of death after being born. The scene is set, depicting her caring and doing the 'right' thing at all costs.

The German forces link the zoo up with their own Zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) who clearly has an agenda up his sleeve to woo Antonina as Jan spends more time out of the picture and away from the zoo, attending to the plight of the Jews himself, many now ensconced in the camps. Bruhl plays this smarmy official with just enough nastiness for you to really want to hate him, but just enough caring to think that he might just not be a monster.

The story continues as they try hard to keep what they're doing from under the snooping German noses, whilst Antonina keeps this German just close enough and with enough hope to make sure the operation is not exposed by her actions and deceit.

It's a very watchable film, slow-moving at times but always tense, well shot and directed by Niko Caro (Whale Rider). The sets are dark and dour, depicting the chaos and destruction of the city, along with the fear and horror facing those seeking survival. The handling of the animals is done well, especially during the scenes when they had escaped. All very convincing, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the central storyline.

Often harrowing, like many films depicting such events of the era, it's an interesting film and slice of history which won't be forgotten. Recommended.

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