The Zookeeper’s Wife (NC16)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Directed by Niki Caro
In 1939 Nazi-occupied Poland, industrialist Oskar Schindler was in Krakow, busy exploiting Jewish labourers at his factories, and eventually saving some of them from the death camps. We’re familiar with that story.
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells a similar but lesser-known story, happening a few hundred klicks away in Warsaw, of husband and wife Jan and Antonina Zabinska (Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain), who used their rundown zoo to shelter the refugees and help them escape the ghetto.
Played by Chastain with quiet grace and elegance, Antonina Zabinska is the latest addition to Kiwi director Niki Caro’s gallery of wonder women who dominated her earlier movies, North Country and Whale Rider.
While her husband is out saving Jews, Antonina is holding down the fort, making sure that their operations aren’t exposed, especially by Daniel Brühl’s Lutz Heck, the smarmy German zoologist-turned-SS mad scientist obsessed with eugenics.
Alas, the movie needs some saving too. It lacks Schindler’s List’s cinematic panache; the pacing is choppy, and the ending is a bit too Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week for my liking.
The Zabinskas deserved better. (* * 1/2)
Photo: TPG News/Click Photos