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Levy Must-Sees: The Zookeepers Wife

Dana Levy (18/04/2017)

Based on the true story of a Polish couple who hid Jewish refugees beneath their zoo during World War 2

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Dana Levy is a British-Israeli film critic living in London.

Set in 1939 in Poland, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ follows Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘The Help’) and her loving husband Dr. Jan Zabinski (superbly played by Johan Heldenbergh of ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’) as they run the Warsaw Zoo, which is filled with an impressive variety of animals for the period.

They live on the grounds of the Zoo and each day they rise early to tend to the animals before opening the gates to their many visitors. It seems like an idyllic setting until the German invasion violently interrupts their lives. After the zoo is bombed, the couple is forced to report to Lutz Heck, the Reich’s chief zoologist (played by Daniel Bruhl, ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’), who introduces a new breeding programme for the zoo.

Antonina and Jan realize that they can do good in this horrific situation by using the underground tunnels and abandoned animal cages at their zoo as to hide Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, many of whom are their friends and neighbours. They devise a action plan for getting the Jews out of the ghetto and into their sanctuary, knowing full well that they are endangering their lives and those of their children.

This intense and moving film will captivate you from start to finish. Jessica Chastain is pure magnificence as Antonina. From the opening scene we are enthralled by her strength, fearlessness, kindness and warmth that she brings to providing for the animals and to caressing her husband and child. You will be blown away by her bond with the animals, most of which are real and include lion cubs.

One friend the couple hides is Maurycy Fraenkel (played by Iddo Goldberg, ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’). His girlfriend Magda Gross (played by Efrat Dor of the popular Israeli drama ‘Asfur’ and ‘Achat Efes Efes’) is also hidden in the Zoo, and Shira Hass (of Israeli drama ‘Shtisel’) plays Ursula is rescued from the ghetto by Jan. The brilliant casting of new talents gives the story authenticity, as you haven’t seen them in some major US blockbuster.

There are some exceptionally moving scenes- including one in which the refugees make their own Pesach Seder in an underground cage. Very apt for this month.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is directed by Niki Caro (‘Whale Rider’) and is adapted from Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book of the same name, which was based on Antonina’s diaries. As it is based on a true story, this film brings a different dimension to Holocaust cinema and makes you reflect on the kindness and courage of people like Antonina and Jan amidst the atrocities. A truly spectacular and awe-inspiring film- and definitely not to be missed.

MOVIE TITLE: The Zookeeper’s Wife
CAST: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Bruhl, Efrat Dor, Iddo Goldberg, Shira Haas
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal / Focus Features
UK RELEASE DATE: 21st April 2017


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