Bethlehem Press

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Movie Review: ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

Friday, April 14, 2017 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“The Zookeepers’ Wife” is a powerful film about courage and bravery during World War II. It’s based on a true story.

Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who founded and ran the Warsaw Zoo, saved the lives of an estimated 300 Jews following the Nazi invasion of Poland. Jews were smuggled out of the notorious Warsaw Ghetto before its occupants were transported in train boxcars to concentrations camps.

Jessica Chastain is Antonina, the mother of a son, Ryszard Zabinski (Timothy Radford, Val Maloku) and married to Jan (Johan Heldenbergh). They run the Warsaw Zoo, a delightful place until it’s bombed to smithereens by the Nazis.

Antonina and Jan devise the idea of turning the zoo into a pig farm in order to supply food for the occupying Nazis. This gives Jan a reason to drive his truck into the Warsaw Ghetto to pick up scraps to feed the pigs.

The real reason is to allow Jan to hide Jews in the truck. Antonina hides them in the basement of the house that they live in on the zoo property. A secret living area is in the basement, and a tunnel is used to sneak the Jews, armed with fake IDs, on to freedom.

A Nazi official, the Chief Zoologist at the Berlin Zoo, Lutz (Daniel Brühl), takes an interest in not only the breeding of bison at the zoo, but in Antonina. Her attempts to placate the Nazi causes tension between her and her husband.

The film depicts Warsaw, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Warsaw Uprising, roughly during the years 1939 through the end of World War II in 1945. The costumes, vehicles, accents and film score provide a well-rounded and in-depth depiction.

Director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider,” 2002; “North Country,” 2005; “A Heavenly Village,” 2009; “McFarland, USA,” 2015), working from a screenplay by Angela Workman (“War Bride,” 2001; “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” 2011), which is based on the book by Diane Ackerman (in turn, based on the Zabinski’s diaries), effectively uses metaphor (the “human zoo” that the zoo as a hiding place becomes), evokes conflict, pathos and humor to render the story, bringing to light what is perhaps a lesser-known story of World War II heroism.

Those who love animals will be moved, and perhaps upset, by scenes depicting the zoo animals. Here, too, is a metaphor that doesn’t go unnoticed.

It’s early in 2017, but look for Chastain to receive a deserved Oscar actress nomination for her title character role in “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” This is one of her most fully-realized roles.

“The Zookeepers’ Wife” is a gripping and harrowing film that will hold your interest. It’s a must-see.

“The Zookeepers’ Wife,”MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking; Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Run time: 2 hrs., 4 mins.; Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous:Jessica Chastain performed the classical music pieces on the piano heard in “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” Antonina and Jan Zabinski were honored by Israel with the “Righteous among the Nations” award, which is given to non-Jews. The film was made on location in Prague and the Czech Republic.

Box Office,April 7: “The Boss Baby” said “You’re fired” to two other animation and CGI-laden features, as well as a celebrity-topped feature comedy, and continued at No. 1 with $26.3 million for the Palm Sunday weekend, and $89.2 million since opening March 31.

“Beauty and the Beast” was close behind, continuing at No. 2, with $25 million, $432.3 million, four weeks.

The animation feature of those guys in blue, “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” opened with only $14 million.

“Going In Style,” the remake starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret, opened at No. 4 with $12.5 million.

5. “Ghost in the Shell,” $7.3 million, $31.5 million, two weeks; 6. “Power Rangers,” $6.2 million, $75.1 million, three weeks; 7. “Kong: Skull Island,” $5.8 million, $156.5 million, five weeks; 8. “Logan,” $4 million, $218 million, six weeks; 9. “Get Out,” $4 million, $162.8 million, seven weeks; 10. “The Case for Christ,” $3.9 million, opening.

Unreel,April 14:

“The Fate of the Furious,”PG-13: F. Gary Gray directs Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood and Vin Diesel in the eighth installment of the action film series.

“Spark: A Space Tail,”PG: Aaron Woodley directs the voice talents of Susan Sarandon, Jessica Biel, Patrick Stewart and Hilary Swank in the animation feature comedy about a teen-age monkey on a mission to Planet Bana.

“The Lost City of Z,”PG-13: James Gray directs Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland in the adventure drama based on the true story about British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon during the 1920s.

“Norman,”R: Joseph Cedar directs Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen and Charlotte Gainsbourg in the drama about Norman Oppenheimer, is a small-time crook who befriends a young politician who becomes a world leader.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes