Thanks to my Aunt I read “The Zookeepers Wife” book written by Diane Ackerman in 2007.  The new film directed by Niki Caro tells the true story about Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain), who runs the zoo in Warsaw, Poland with her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh).  The film starts with an average day in 1939 before Germany invades Poland, where along with their son Ryzard (Timothy Radford) work among the animals.  The animals also run around with them as a young Camel follows Antonina while she rides her bike. 

     You can tell that Antonina is right for this job, she even save a new born elephant with the help of Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl).  Lutz is the director of the Berlin Zoo.  When everything seems like it is going very smoothly, it changes in an instant, Germany bombs Warsaw.  I loved this scene for once a director shoots the bombing from the ground where we see what the bombing victims are seeing, and not what we usually see the scene from the planes dropping the bombs.  Doing this Director Caro makes us feel the terror when the bombs are hitting the zoo, and not only are the humans running for safety, but her can hear and see the animals in sheer terror. 

     After the bombing, we see some of the animals running the street of Warsaw.  When everything looks lost in the Warsaw Zoo, Lutz shows up in a Nazi Uniform.  Lutz has been promoted to Hitler’s personal zoologist.  He has a plan to help the Zabinska’s save some of the best animal breeds that remain alive by shipping them to the Berlin Zoo.  One of the sad parts of the flick for me is when some of the animals that survived get killed by the soldiers. 

     Jan starts working with I would call the freedom fighters where he and Antonina turn the zoo into a pig farm.  Why? So they can provide food for the Nazi soldiers, and help get some of the Jews out of the ghetto.  The plan is simple, and you will have to see the movie to reveal how the rescued the Jewish people that were trapped in the ghetto.  They do save Jewish people where some of the Jewish people stay in the holding areas of the zoo where animals once roamed.  There is a very touching scene with a young teenage girl Urszula (Shira Haas).  Some of the Nazi soldiers brutally assault her, and Jan saves her. 

     There are many close calls, not as many in some other films from this era, where Jewish people were persecuted and killed during the holocaust.  The way the Zabinska’s turned the zoo into a zoo for humans was brilliant, and I am glad they followed the book almost to a T.  Chastain was amazing; she takes us into her word of helping not only animals, but also Jewish people.  You will learn a lot about how the Zabinskas’s saved over 300 people during the war.  I grade The Zoo Keeper’s Wife a solid A-.  I love this flick, and you will as well. 


Brad Watts

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