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Eastern Europe - a city torn by civil war - Present Day Jonah Ludovic writes in his journal. His poetry softening the cynical observations of a man living a self imposed penance. Wherever he came from and whoever he was, Ludovic is now alone, silenced by a crime unknown. Ludovic can hear the shelling of an imposing civil war. He can see the flashes of fire destroying a city that once was his home. He doesn't move. He just writes. As daybreak arrives, the shelling has ceased. Ludovic makes his way to his job as a custodian at the local zoo. He is met at the gates by the fleeing staff. Ludovic chooses to remain behind, he has no where to go. Along with an elderly guard and a veterinarian, the three set out to care for the animals and hopefully protect them and themselves, from harm. It is not long before the war has reached the gates of the zoo. Dragov, the sociopathic captain of a local search platoon of nationalists, heightens the intensity of the senseless war with surprise visits ... Written by
Michael Alden <email@example.com>
'The Zookeeper' tells a harrowing and moving tale of Ludovic, an ex-communist now zookeeper, who chooses to stay back at war torn Czech Republic in order to take care of the animals. He is regularly visited and harassed by militants (who have already taken Ludovic's only companion, a vet, into their custody) that interrupt his solitude. Suddenly he encounters a young boy and then not much time later, his armed mother shows up to seek refuge. Protecting them would ensure risking his own life. During this ordeal, the three, though at times conflicted, manage to find some solace in taking care of the animals while experiencing constant fear for their own lives and the sadness in losing some of the animals due to the ice cold weather.
Made on a decent budget, the zoo setting is well constructed and the actors' interaction with the animals feels genuine. The director manages to draw the viewer into the story and engage them. While we do care about the characters we also worry about the poor animals who already spent their whole lives in captivity and now during the war there is no escape for them. We are comforted to see the three protagonists do their best to keep them safe but the death scenes are heartbreaking. The screenplay is solid and sticks to the main story. The characters are well developed and the dialogues are good. Ralph Zimen shows clever use of symbolism.
Sam Neill may be an unusual choice but he carries off the title role very well. It couldn't have been an easy role to play but the actor demonstrates his skills effectively. Gina McKee is a very underrated actress and this is one of the few movies that does justice to her immense talent. The actress is sublime. Javor Loznica does a fantastic job by being restrained and explosive when required. Om Puri makes a strong impression in a small role.
I liked the novel concept of the story. How often does one get to see a movie set in a zoo during a civil war? 'The Zookeeper' is a story about courage, survival, love and sacrifice. We see Ludovic transform into this caring person risking his own life to protect Ankiza and her son. We see Ankiza, who was raped and tortured and is now a hardened soldier who still retains the loving and compassionate side of her own self. Then there's young Zioig who forces himself to be an adult and use a gun but who still hasn't lost his innocence and compassion as is evident in his interaction with the animals. Even though one can see the ending coming, it is superbly done. 'The Zookeeper' is one powerful film that deserves multiple viewing.
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