I assume older audiences will be seeing “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” and why wouldn’t they? WWII dramas (with or without battles) manage to tell such fascinating and yet true stories, and Jessica Chastain has barely made a bad movie in her exquisite career. This movie is no exception; it’s no “Schindler’s List,” but it does offer nice qualities.
Based on a true story, the movie is set at the Warsaw Zoo in Poland, run by Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) and Antonina Zabinski (Chastain) and their young son Ryszard (Timothy Redford and later Val Maluku). The Nazis have invaded the country, and destroyed and/or relocated their prized animals. They also used their enclosures as their base during the day. Despite that, the couple must protect as much Jewish survivors as they can. Jan would have to smuggle them through the garbage he collects, and they must remain quiet in their basement, until midnight when the Nazis leave.
Daniel Bruhl co-stars as Lutz Heck, Hitler’s head zoologist, who decides to recreate some extinct animals, and often visits Antonina, much to the anger of her husband. She is freightened every time, he comes, esspecially when Lutz attempts to rape her later on in the film.
The weakness of “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is my full understanding of the narrative. I’ve never heard of these people, and at times, I didn’t always understand the dialogue. Still, with such fine performances from Chastain, Heldenebergh, and Bruhl, I’ve come to terms with them.
It may not have the full spark of a true WWII drama, but it has some real pain, including a young Jewish girl named Urszula (wonderfully played by Shira Haas), whom Antonina befriends. It has suspenseful moments (which I won’t give away), and a nice art direction. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is not a masterpiece, but you do get your money’s worth.