The Zookeeper’s Wife



29 March 2017| No Comments on The Zookeeper’s Wife     by Sean Chavel


I kept wanting to justify its respectability, but I just couldn’t. The Zookeeper’s Wife has the kind of enticing footnote story of Holocaust survival that I’m usually drawn to: During the second world war in Warsaw, Poland, Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain), Polish husband and wife zookeepers, hid Jewish refugees in their facilities following the German raid of Poland. The husband would join the resistance, the wife would care for the refugees and one of their former zookeepers becomes a Nazi. There’s one sequence of remarkable evil that I wasn’t aware of, that following the new occupation of Warsaw, the Nazis decided to shoot loose animals because they didn’t feel they would survive winter. That’s an excuse, for it seems to me they just wanted to shoot something.

A lot of the film otherwise feels sketched in. The Nazi, played by Daniel Bruhl of “Inglorious Basterds” fame, is one of those creepy lechers. Yet Antonina has to entertain his flirtations so she can have favors in exchange. Will she sleep with him in order to save lives? There’s actually more time spent on Antonina sitting around her kitchen, and talking about the refugees predicaments – more so that letting us actually know the Jews up close and personal ourselves. Fine, there are some interesting cutaways to the Polish Underground, of how the Poles found ways to falsify documents and reshape their identities. I never felt immersed into the film though. Little bits and pieces snagged my attention for a moment, that’s it.

I couldn’t forgive Chastain’s accent either after a certain point. To hide her discomfort with it, Chastain speaks in a low, low voice for the entire film as if calm determination was the note absolutely called for – which it should not. If she raised an octave, I was thinking, it might break the accent. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is based on a book of which I believe has gained merited admiration, but the adaptation is an odd case where I feel everything told to me came secondhand.

124 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: Europa Europa” (1991, Poland); “Defiance” (2008); “In Darkness” (2011, Poland); “The Book Thief” (2013).

Zookeepers Wife_2017_Review Adaptaiton_Book_to_Film

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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