The Zookeeper's Wife

We are in Warsaw, prior to WWII; watch what happens when the Nazis invade Poland. Director Niki Caro ("McFarland, USA"), working from a PG-13 script by Angela Workman ("The War Bride") brings Diane Ackerman's international best-selling novel (based on a true story) to life. As bombs fall, we see the reactions of the animals in the zoo (I had never thought about that before) and the humans trapped in the Nazis' path.

Zookeepers Antonina and Jan Zabinski not only undertake the protection of animals, but also humans who are caught in a hellacious situation. A victim, whether with two legs or four, is still a victim.

Caro's brilliant cast includes:
  • Jessica Chastain ("Miss Sloane") is Antonina, a generous and loving caretaker, her first instinct is to protect and comfort. I have never seen an actor so totally at ease with animals, from elephants to a pet skunk, she pats, soothes, kisses and strokes them and they respond in kind.
  • Johan Heldenbergh ("The Broken Circle Breakdown") is her resourceful husband Jan, dedicated to his life's work, caring for the animals entrusted to his safekeeping. He is horrified by the brutality he sees on the streets; he cannot refuse to help. 
  • Daniel Brühl ("Burnt") Lutz Heck has a haywire idea that is so goofy I knew it had to be part of the true story. A screenwriter wouldn't dare make up something so outrageous. I began to scoff before Jan. Sure enough, if you Google him, look for the herd that carries the Heck name. Multilingual Brühl works all over Europe. 
  • Shira Haas ("A Tale of Love and Darkness") Ursula gives a name and a face to one of the Nazis' many victims.
We have plenty of souls to root for and we cringe as we watch Jan helpfully boost adorable children into the railroad car: we know what lies ahead. In other cases we mostly HEAR gunshots and imagine the results. There is more blood when Antonina helps that elephant with her newborn calf...an amazing scene, by the way. This is PG-13 because of one fleeting glimpse of a breast and an obscured view of mating buffalo.

The dialogue is in English with Polish accents and is very muted (people are often hiding), so I longed for closed captions. Once again we are treated with memorable work from Ms. Chastain, who may very well be this generation's Meryl Streep. (But Chastain's profile is prettier.)
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Watch this excellent preview:
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