Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife Film Review

Last week I caught The Zoo Keeper's Wife, with the luminous Jessica Chastain. Okay first up, her Polish accent was a little thick and has been criticised, but she tried, so let's leave it at that. The film itself is a true story based on the wartime experience of Antonina and Jan Zabinski. And their fight to keep their zoo, and save lives, during the German occupation of Warsaw in WWll. As we watch we wonder what we would have done in those dark days. Leave our humanity at the gate, and take a selfie of the view. Or take our courage in our hands to become part of the picture?

A heroic effort under the most dangerous of times. When war was basically between good and evil. Jessica played animal lover Antonina, working with husband Jan, played by Johan Heldenbergh. With a loving family and staff, the zoo is loved by the Warsaw residents. And German zoologist Lutz Heck. Played by the charismatic Daniel Brühl. Who is also attracted to the beautiful Antonina.

When war comes to Poland, the zoo is hit by German bombs and panic breaks out among the animals. With many gloriously funny and beautiful animals shot. Including the sweetest little camel.

Now Hitler's Chief Zoological Officer, Nazi Heck offers to take the best of the zoo animals to Berlin Zoo, for safe keeping. Exhibits he is keen to breed. Others not deemed special enough to save or will not survive the winter, are ordered to be killed. Including a golden eagle, who will be stuffed! The animals will be turned into soap etc. Omens of the horrors that this war will wreak on the innocents.

While Antonina and Jan watch their zoo exhibits caged and sent to Berlin, we watch as the Jewish residents of Warsaw are made to wear the Star of David, and herded into the ghetto. For their safe-keeping? Many of the friends of Antonina and Jan are taken. But Antonina helps their friend Magda by hiding her in their home.

Unable to leave them to their uncertain future, Jan and Antonina devise an audacious plan to rescue as many of the Jewish people as they can. With Lutz unwittingly loving the idea, and decides to use the zoo himself to carry out his breeding plans.

Johan Heldenbergh plays Jan with so much honour, a man with a moral code who risked everything to save his fellow man. Keeping close to Lutz in the zoo, Antonina, the heart of the rescue operation with her piano, then squirrels them away inside the house, until it is safe for them to leave for other safe houses. The zoo workers, including Jerzyk, played by Michael McElhatton also help, or at least keep quiet and make more soup, again at great personal risk.

We've all heard of the stories of the people who saved others, with no thought to their own safety. And we see the amazing labour office chief who arranges a worker scheme with Jan. One way in. One way out.

And we meet many of the people who can guess the future, who know that being herded onto freight trains bound for wherever, cannot be good. With their carefully packed luggage discarded by the side of the track. But hold their head up and make it a party so as not to frighten the children.

But finally the war ends and we learn the truth, the story you could never imagine actually did happen. Antonina and Jan saved over 300 men, women and children through their little zoo.

And Warsaw Zoo still survives today. And maybe you can see the little golden Star of David painted on the animal cages.

Do go see the amazing film so we never forget.

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