Amazing True Story
The opening scene of The Zookeeper’s Wife shows a zoo and a parade of many fine looking animals -- a surprising event considering it’s in Warsaw, Poland, in 1939. The Warsaw Zoo looks inviting, and the surrounding town area seems welcoming.
The Zabinski family includes mother Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain), father Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), children Ryszard Zabinski (young by Timothy Radford, older by Val Maloku), and Viktorie Jenickova, (Teresa Zabinski). They all work together to keep the animals healthy and the Zoo a fun destination for visitors. This close-knit family thrives on their Zoo and sees to it every morning that the family and the animals are well cared for. But their efforts come to a halt when Germany invades Poland and begins to persecute the Jews as the Holocaust begins.
Having kind hearts for mankind, the Zabinski family secretly begins to work with the Resistance and hides Jews in their home. When the Zoo itself is bombed and closed, chaos consumes the family. Now they are ordered to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl/ Captain America: Civil War).
Amid the horrific change of life and uncertainty in Warsaw, one person keeps her eye on what’s important, the safety of her family and others. The Zookeeper’s Wife is adapted by Angela Workman (War Bride) from the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman. Niki Caro (McFarland USA) directs. Perhaps it’s the insight of these females that engenders the kindness of Antonina (fabulously portrayed by Chastain) who knows she is putting her family at risk with each new person who comes to their home. But Jan is also behind her as they are a strong and loving couple.
There are warm moments that help focus everyone at the house as they go through daily rehearsals because of being threatened by invasion of German officers. The piano plays a big part here -- when singing lifts their spirits or becomes a warning to remain hidden. For as long as they could, the real family continued to help save 1000 lives and what they could of their animals.
Producer Diane Miller Levin said; “This story celebrates life in all forms. Diane Ackerman showed us a world where humans, animals, the spirit of all living things, are valued. Specifically, it’s about the heroism of a woman living in a time of unmitigated fear and destruction. Antonina’s instincts were both scientific and spiritual, truly a rare combination. She knew how to spot a predator and how to defuse their aggression, but she also knew how to tend to a wounded animal and how to heal them. Overcoming her natural shyness, she applied her innate understanding of animal psychology to humans, and so was able to help even the most damaged escapees to heal and feel hope for the future.”
The amazing film is based on a true story, and the children Rys and Teresa are still alive. With a wonderful cast to portray the real characters, the film is also enhanced by Niki Caro’s flawless direction. Levin said she was hired “not because she was a woman, but she was the right person for this movie, being both pragmatic and creative.”
The production appears so authentic it makes the viewer feel they are in Warsaw, and the cinematography by Andrij Parekh is stunning. “He completely understood when I said everything had to be real yet beautiful, and it wasn’t just that Andrij captured these facets; he was able to truly see them, and he lit them in the most exquisite way,” said Caro.
Already reaching an $8 million box office, The Zookeeper’s Wife is surely a film many more moviegoers will want to see.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “PG-13” for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking.)