I had a great Sunday evening with my parents – watching ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’, a biography drama set in the World War 2 era; during the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland. Starring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh and Daniel Bruhl among others, and directed by Niki Caro; this two hour drama takes place largely in Warsaw, Poland; and shows how a couple in charge of the Warsaw Zoo save as many people and animals as they can, while death and destruction threatens to tear Warsaw apart.
I loved that that the film’s opening scene involved a plethora of animals – lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, llamas et all . Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) is the keeper of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) is the caregiver of all the animals (as well as people). Love is in the air, but not romantic love – a llama playfully chases Antonina as she cycles away happily inside the zoo, while people around smile on without a worry in the world. Antonina is the darling of the Warsaw Zoo as she then helps a huge elephant mother in great pain successfully deliver a baby tusker to the world. However, all these happy scenes are short-lived as the German Nazis arrive; bringing bombs and destruction with them.
Now it is up to Dr. Zabinski and Antonina to save their precious animals as the inevitable war threatens to close the zoo for good. They are forced to strike a deal with the suave and cunning Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the newly appointed (by the Nazis) keeper of the zoo; which involves building a pig farm for meat to feed the Nazis, in return for the zoo animals safely being shepherded away from war-torn Warsaw. In the meantime, the couple secretly shelter a lot of people during the war – many of them Jews fleeing from persecution in form of the horrific Holocaust.
Quite a few ingenious methods are used during this monumental rescue effort – such as hiding the kids under the dried grass refuse in the lorries meant for the pigs, colouring the hair of a Jewish mother and daughter blonde; and arranging fake passports for the refugees. Jessica Chastain plays her role as the caregiver and protector to perfection – you can feel her pain and feel she deserves a hug for all that she’s been through and all the efforts she takes to protect even strangers. Johan Heldenbergh is the tough, stoic husband who plays perfect foil to Jessica. He is initially skeptical of Jessica’s plans to save the animals but gives his full support throughout the effort. Their son openly defies the Nazis, and while his bravery is admirable; it gives us quite a few nervy moments to endure. Daniel Bruhl’s character is polished to start off with, but as the film progresses; the charisma of a villain radiates from him. He does well to keep it subtle throughout, showing his true colours towards the end.
On the whole, a very well taken movie, I thought. Love shines through all the adversities faced by humans as well as animals. Kudos to Niki Caro. The fact that it is based on a true story is even more heartening. My Rating: 8 out of 10.