The Zookeeper’s Wife is a tale about Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), keepers of the Warsaw Zoo and animal-whisperers to all of its residents, who treat their animals like family. They also managed to save hundreds of Jews fleeing the Warsaw Ghetto by hiding them in their scrap (food for pigs) trucks, basement and underground tunnels. Early in the film, the Eden of the zoo is quickly destroyed by bombs falling as the Nazis invade Poland freeing the animals (including the lions) to wander the streets with the invading Germans. What a surreal and terrifying day that must have been. But the lack of zoo animals is precisely what allowed the Zabinski’s to start a pig farm on the site and hide their “guests” for the remainder of the war.
It’s a fascinating real-life story filled with true bravery and harrowing moments that could have made for a beautiful documentary. Unfortunately, what we get is another bland story about the war that’s trying too hard to be righteous. Chastain’s Polish accent is inconsistent and sometimes slips away in mid-scene but that isn’t where Zookeeper ultimately goes awry. This is a distraction, to be sure since everyone seems to have a different accent here, but the film suffers more from the haphazard storytelling, over-polished story and lack of fleshed-out (especially Jewish) characters.
Really, really short review: Should have had more animal instinct.
Available now on VOD and DVD.