The Zookeepers Wife DVD Reviewed By Jon E Clist

The Premise
The Zookeeper's Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion.

The Review
It has been interesting that this year has seen the NZ release of a couple of films that approach the Holocaust form a slightly different angle. Where Denial took the more modern day look back through a court case from within the past couple of decades, The Zookeeper’s Wife goes back to years that it happened and focuses in on the extremely interesting story that kind of runs somewhat parallel to and yet right in the middle of the horrid happenings in the Jewish Ghettos of Warsaw.

The film comes out of a book by Diane Ackerman released in 2007. On February 10, 2008, the book was number 13 on The New York Times non-fiction best seller list. Ackerman's non-fiction book drew inspiration from the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska and Jan Zabinski, who were the directors of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland and the central characters in the film.

Above all this is a story of people caught up in a whirlwind of horror but doing what they can to stem the tide. Of course, the Nazi tide was pretty massive and completely smashed over Poland and especially Warsaw. The film kind of begins in such a beautiful moment as we see the core characters walking through this wonderful zoo interacting with the animals. It is so lovely to see how much these Zabinskis loved their animals and brought so much joy to so many people through their zoo. Then came the war and the end to all of that. From the moment the Nazis arrived this story turns dark. To be honest, my eyes watered many times from here in. I am not going to go further into plot direction for those who have not read the book or are not familiar with this story.

The cast is so amazing and is lead with brilliance from the front by Chastain and Heldenbergh. As the directors of the Zoo they set the story and then inject such amazing humanity into the story as they look for opportunities to save lives wherever they can. While Heldenbergh’s Jan is strong and for the most part firmly set in what he knows he must do, Chastain’s Antonina is more conflicted. Chastain plays this emotional rollercoaster to perfection and creates a character that you pretty much straight away love and care for. Of course it is no surprise that Chastain delivers in this film. From the moment she stormed to the forefront of Hollywood with her breakthrough roles in Zero Dark Thirty and The Help, she has continued to keep herself busy with some amazing performances.

Then there is the always brooding and amazing Daniel Bruhl. This guy has brought some amazing performances into the world of cinema. I remember watching him in 2003’s Goodbye Lenin and thinking here is an actor to watch. I knew at this stage he was an actor that would easily transition from smaller budget local European films to the bigger budgets of Hollywood. Sure enough, he was stunningly good in Ron Howard’s Rush as Niki Lauda. When you see him in that role, you would struggle to see anyone else coming close to being able to portray Lauda with such brilliance and honesty. In The Zookeeper’s Wife he continues to bring the greatness to his performances. However, while in Rush he balances the fine line between dark and light, in this role his character lives firmly in the darker side of life. His brooding looks and shifty persona is brilliantly brought to life here and you can’t help but cringe every time he hits the screen.

Of course this wouldn’t be the great film it is without the wonderful kiwi director Niki Caro at the helm. Her attention to detail is legendary and comes across to brilliantly in this film. I spent so much of the first act being so completely amazing at how accurate the Warsaw Zoo looks for the time period of the 1930’s. Now of course I wasn’t there and can’t truly compare what it looks like, however, I was so utterly lost within it and fully believed I was there. In many of the cast interviews around this film, Caro is championed as a great director who brings a strong clear vision and yet a flexibility to draw the best out of her cast and crew. After such amazing cinematic successes with films like Whale Rider and North Country, would we ever doubt her ability to champion a great story.

The Verdict
Another amazing story of humanity triumphing over the darker side of life. A film that will bring tears of hurt and pain and a few of great hope. They say if we forget or ignore our past we are destined to repeat it and therefore it is movies like The Zookeeper’s Wife that will hopefully help us all to find a different way forward. Beautifully sad and yet full of hope.

The Trailer

The Info
DVD Releases: 2nd August 2017
Rating: M – Contains violence

Duration: 126 minutes 
Genre:  Drama/True Story
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Director: Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country)

The Extras
The current Warsaw Zoo opened on 11 March 1928. However, its roots can be traced to 17th century private menageries.

In-between takes, Jessica Chastain claims she was taught "the nastiest German" swear-words by co-star Daniel Brühl.

The song played in the trailer is "Varúð" by Icelandic band Sigur Rós. The name of the song means "caution", which is a prominent state throughout the film.

All the animals you see are real, there is no CGI use. Real-life lion baby cubs were used on set.

While the real life events occurred in Warsaw, the movie was filmed entirely in Prague.