I have never been a fan of using English as a primary language of communication in a movie that is set in a country where English is not a first language; even more so, in a period drama. To me, that is where The Zookeeper’s falls short. There is a dialogue in the second half that made me cringe. When Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) tells Urszula (Shira Haas), “I have always wanthed tu dhraw”.
Mind you, I understand the need to be able to connect with a vast majority of the audiences and surely Polish (the language and not the product) is not widely spoken. But the nuances of a language cannot be done justice to – even with the best of translators. If you do want to make the movie in English, then please make it in English by all means. Don’t force an accent.
Having said that, The Zookeeper’s Wife makes the cut on almost all other counts. The aversion to the use of English is a personal preference and may not be the case with most viewers. Antonina and Jan (Johan Heldenberg) are keepers of the Warsaw Zoo which boasts of some of the best animals before Hitler decided that Poland was up for grabs. They lived there with their son Ryszard (Timothy Radford) when the Fuhrer made himself feel at home.
An air strike leaves the Zoo in disarray. The keepers are in shock but life has to go on. Disturbed by the possibility of losing those that they have grown up with – Jews and Gentiles alike – the couple decide to provide refuge to their closest friend Magda (Efrat Dor).
However, with the way things shape up, Jan and Antonina decide that they need to do much more and that’s where the true story of the Zookeepers begins. Over a 5 year period, Jan and Nina provided safe stay and passage to nearly 300 Jews for which they received the gratitude of the Israeli government. A story that definitely needed to be told – one of many, I am certain, that have not seen the light of day yet.
Like any movie that touches upon the Holocaust, The Zookeeper’s Wife, will leave you poignant. I am sure that no one in our generation can even imagine what it was like to be dragged out of your homes and shot for no reason – and that’s if you were lucky.
Jessica Chastain does as well as she possibly can. With the limitations of the accent imposed by director Niki Caro, I guess it was as good as she could get. Needless to say, it was a far cry from Chastain’s best performances to date such as Interstellar, ZD30 and of course The Help.
The stand out performance though comes from Daniel Bruhl who I believe is one of THE most underrated actors of our time. The support cast is solid and the production quality is par excellence. Scenes such as the delivery of the Elephant Calf or that of Adam (the camel) running after Nina during her morning rounds are superbly shot.
In all, The Zookeeper’s Wife – and I wonder why it wasn’t just called The Zookeepers – considering that Jan’s role in the effort of saving the Jews was as important if not better – is a good watch for a Sunday afternoon at home. Would I spend hard earned money to walk into a theatre? Probably not. 6 on 10. Worth a dekko.
Watch the trailer on http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2949821977