Special to The Village News
There have been a few WWII Holocaust films made over the years depicting citizens attempting to hide and protect Jews from the Nazis. Though there are several other fine ones, The Zookeeper’s Wife will surely rank as one of the most sensitive and well acted portrayals of all of them.
Set in Poland and based on a true story, the film revolves around a husband and wife running the infamous Warsaw Zoo – featuring soft spoken, deeply humble, yet heroic performances by both Johan Heldenberg and Jessica Chastain.
As the war commences, the married couple is cornered into making decisions about the Zoo due to the German occupation of their homeland. An equally subtle yet captivating performance by one of the German leaders (played by Daniel Bruhl), who was also a renowned zoologist, adds an intriguing, eerie and uneasy mixture to the story.
Needless to say, as the couple begins to adapt to their new environment, genuine, real life character and relationship stresses materialize, presenting potential obstacles to their goals – and the writer delivers superbly scripted scenes and exchanges detailing these issues. The true beauty of this film stems from its focus on the help being given, and the “normalcy” they tried to provide their fellow man, woman and child – all the while, not losing sight of the absolute atrocities that transpired during this period.
While wonderfully straightforward in its delivery – with somewhat predictable direction – the great courage exemplified by the heroes (obviously putting themselves at grave risk) is really overshadowed by the core qualities driving them, their unquantifiable grace and human spirit, which grabs the viewers by the heart, not letting go.
Though the film seems somewhat gentle and understated at times – considering the events surrounding this period – in reality, the writer and director have managed to convey a gut wrenching and moving drama with far less of the graphic violence than often accompanies such a story.
In the end, while Chastain’s character and performance were nothing short of magical, the two leading male figures brought an equal brilliance to the screen, providing further depth and emotion to this extremely important story. Together, these three combined to weave an extremely memorable recount of a devastating period in history.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is a very unique and creative version of this heartbreaking and historical time – missing it would be a significant mistake.
Four out of Five Stars