Niki Caro (Whale Rider, Macfarland USA) brings us a stunning adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s book of the same name which chronicles the true account of Warsaw Zookeepers Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion in 1939.
Starring Jessica Chastain as Antonina and Johan Heldenberg as Jan, the film captures the evolution of the Polish people as they began to be marginalized and taken away from their homes, as well as the kindness of the few who stood up against the bigotry and hatred of the Nazi Party. The Zabinski’s story is one of the most heartwarming and triumphant real life tales of everyday heroes. Caro did an excellent job at immersing us into their world as a family during a time when tensions began to run high. They are first and foremost a family like any other and who hold that to be important above all when they decide to take in their Jewish neighbors to help them escape from the horrors of the Nazi’s. Chastain is a powerhouse as Antonina, and seeing her be the rock that risks so much for the freedom of others was a stellar performance from the actress.
The film did run into some pacing issues following the course of the historical events. But each moment that the Zabinski family faced a challenge was hold-your-breath cinema at it’s finest. Caro built the tension of these real moments, and when our everyday heroes won it felt earned and celebratory.
The film is PG-13 and while not as violent as other war time films, could still lead to conversations with your kids about a disturbing series of events in our world. The Zookeeper’s Wife offers audiences a first person view of Polish life in 1939, and tells the story of a very special family whose lives touched so many. And while yes a lot of the horrors are not featured, there are moments that Caro nailed a subdued and emotionally gripping way to communicate the tragic nature of what happened. There’s a scene where children reach up to the adults to be put on a train, and we don’t need to see where it’s going because we already know. It’s heartbreaking. The violence isn’t graphic, but does involve off-screen circumstances that are jarring involving the characters and animals in the film.
Overall The Zookeeper’s Wife is a good introduction to share with your teens who may be studying the Holocaust in school to start a dialogue.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is out this FRIDAY!