Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Zookeeper’s Wife

(UK. USA, 2017)

This was a major disappointment to me. The story of the Żabiński family, Antonina and Johan and their young children, Ryszard and Teresa (still alive today), should have been compelling. Instead, I kept wanting it to show a little movement. It is extremely ponderous, when it should have been electrifying.

The Żabińskis were the directors of the Warsaw Zoo, one of the best in the world in 1939. Then here come the fucking Nazi bombers, killing or releasing half the animals. Soon the ground troops came, and slaughtered most of the rest of them, because they couldn’t be fed. Only one fucking Nazi, Lutz Heck, manages to take the cream of the crop back to Berlin. He had been a friend of the Żabińskis, but as soon as I saw him in uniform with the double lightning strokes of the SS on his collar, I knew he was a horrible man. One simply could not be in the SS and be a good person, it was just not possible.

The main story isn’t about the animals, though. They sheltered and then smuggled away over 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, which was a place only one step removed from the ovens of Dachau. Of course, if they had been caught they would have been instantly executed.

I think it would be impossible to make a movie about the Holocaust without some moving scenes in it, and there are some here. The most awful was seeing Johan lift Jewish children in a boxcar. He knew where they were going, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. I choked up.

But the rest … it moves at a snail’s pace. I have admired Jessica Chastain in everything I’ve seen her in, but not this one. She chooses to play Antonina as a quiet little mouse. Every scene is drawn out and played in whispers. I kept wanting her to speak up! Again, it’s a damn shame. This should have been so good.