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Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski in The Zookeeper’s Wife. (Anne Marie Fox)
Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski in The Zookeeper’s Wife. (Anne Marie Fox)

Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife a disjointed Holocaust drama Add to ...

  • Directed by Niki Caro
  • Written by Angela Workman
  • Starring Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh
  • Classification PG
  • Year 2017
  • Country USA
  • Language English

You may feel you’ve been swept all the way back to Out of Africa: The Zookeeper’s Wife opens in a sunny villa, where a child slumbers beside two lion cubs. But soon, Antonina’s idyllic life as the chatelaine of the Warsaw zoo is overturned by Nazis and the endearing animal images are replaced with a run-of-the-mill Holocaust movie in which she runs a safe house for escaping Jews. Jessica Chastain can’t figure out a woman whose initial awkwardness and anxiety quickly give way to heroic sang-froid, any more than Angela Workman’s script (an adaptation of the book by Diane Ackerman) can explain why some people choose to save others. As her oddly unengaged zoologist husband, the Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh appears to be working in a different movie altogether. Instead, Chastain gets some chemistry going with Daniel Bruehl, as a Nazi commander with a taste for animal husbandry. But the sex meanders from the grotesque – a scene where he rubs against her while two bison mate – to the surprisingly tame in a film that prefers tastefully underplaying Holocaust clichés to building its own legitimate drama.

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