A disillusioned ex-Communist is left behind to take care of the animals in the capital's zoological gardens until a U.N. rescue force arrives.



(story and screenplay), (screenplay)

On Disc

at Amazon

3 wins. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Drama | History | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

Set when the apartheid government was still in control, this powerful South African thriller is based on the true story of a policeman belonging to an elite government squad who was ... See full summary »

Director: Ralph Ziman
Stars: Danny Keogh, Patrick Shai, Seputla Sebogodi
Drama | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

A woman goes home with the best-looking stranger, only to discover she's been kidnapped.

Director: Gaylene Preston
Stars: Rachael Blake, Robyn Malcolm, Madeleine Sami
Action | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A young hoodlum's rise from a small-time criminal to a powerful crime entrepreneur during the turbulent years before and after the fall of apartheid.

Director: Ralph Ziman
Stars: Rapulana Seiphemo, Jeffrey Zekele, Ronnie Nyakale
Old School (TV Series 2014)
Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

The eight-part series follows the adventures of the retired criminal Lennie Cahill and the retired cop Ted McCabe.

Stars: Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Sarah Peirse
Country Life (1994)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" set in rural Australia in the 1920's. Jack Dickens and his niece Sally run the family farm to support brother-in-law Alexander as a (supposedly ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Blakemore
Stars: Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, John Hargreaves
Jessica I (TV Movie 2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

Young Jessica is sent to a mental asylum by her rotten family on a false pretense. Her only chance is a down-on-his-luck boozing lawyer.

Director: Peter Andrikidis
Stars: Leeanna Walsman, Lisa Harrow, Sam Neill
Victory (1996)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

Axel Heyst lives on a secluded island near the Dutch East Indies port of Surabaya. The year is 1913. While on personal business to the port, he visits the hotel owned by racist German ... See full summary »

Director: Mark Peploe
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Irène Jacob
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

When a meddlesome mother enrolls in university with her son, old and new worlds collide with awesome consequences.

Director: Mark Lamprell
Stars: Sinéad Cusack, Sam Neill, Matthew Newton
Skin I (2008)
Biography | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Based on the true story of a black girl who was born to two white Afrikaner parents in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Director: Anthony Fabian
Stars: Sophie Okonedo, Sam Neill, Alice Krige
Adventure | Drama | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.9/10 X  

Teenage twins battle dark forces hidden beneath Auckland's volcanoes.

Director: Jonathan King
Stars: Tom Cameron, Sophie McBride, Oliver Driver
Hostage (1992)
Action | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5/10 X  

UK black ops agent is sent to Argentina to find a kidnapped special ops analyst and take out the terrorists who took him. When a pretty girl who may somehow be involved catches his eye things get very complicated fast.

Director: Robert Young
Stars: Sam Neill, Talisa Soto, James Fox
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Set in Edwardian England where upper lips are always stiff and men from the Colonies are not entirely to be trusted, Fisk Senior has little time or affection for his son, but when the pair visit an eccentric Indian, they start a strange journey that eventually allows the old man to find his heart.

Director: Toa Fraser
Stars: Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown


Cast overview, first billed only:
The Vet
Javor Loznica ...
Srdjan Simeonovich ...
Arnost Proschek ...
Mikulás Kren ...
Tomás Valík ...
Soldier 1
Stanislav Hybler ...
Soldier 1
Hana Pastejríková ...
Woman at Window
Drahomíra Fialková ...
Neighbor Woman
Ilja Racek ...
Rudolf Jelínek ...
Zoo Official


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 <novelma@aol.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

zoo | civil war | boy | starving | bombing | See All (11) »


One man had the courage to do what was right...


Drama | War


See all certifications »



Release Date:

22 November 2001 (Czech Republic)  »

Also Known As:

Clovek v ZOO  »

Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (DVD edition)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


[first lines]
Father: Please!
[is struck by butt of gun]
Soldier 1: Women to the left, men to the right.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Michal Koban ... legal counsel animals See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Excellent Sam Neill Vehicle, Worth Seeking Out
31 October 2005 | by (London) – See all my reviews

The Zookeeper is one of the better-kept secrets of Sam Neill's career. After emerging from the commercial experience of Jurassic Park 3, the actor started work on something of completely different caliber, a moving drama set amidst the tumultuous background of an east European civil war. That film's director, Ralph Ziman, is that rarity in mainstream cinema: a creator of some political consciousness. It's a characteristic he showed in his first film Hearts And Mind (1996) set in Praetoria, which focused on a death squad assassin aiming to infiltrate the National African Congress. According to those who have seen it, the result was memorable but it remains obstinately unavailable on DVD, and so almost completely unknown to most viewers. After working on a pop video collection, presumably to pay the rent between serious assignments, Ziman took a number of years to develop what is by all accounts something of a pet project for him, The Zookeeper. It's a film which communicates a similar feeling of political unease, again focusing on the various costs, private and public, of social upheaval and ideological conflict.

Neill was a deliberate casting choice for the role of Ludovic, the disillusioned party member now animal keeper in some unnamed, conflict-ridden east European city, a character estranged from his former beliefs, his daughter (now living in Paris and sending recriminatory letters) and, ultimately, himself. In Ziman's co-written script, Ludovic's zoo is under direct threat from street fighting partisans while the keeper determines to keep it a 'sanctuary' from the constant shelling outside. Underlying all are the realities of the Bosnian conflict, the spectre of ethnic cleansing hovering on the zoo's doorstep. During the first part of the film, as the underpaid and frightened zoo staff disappear off, Ludovic gradually finds himself looking after the entire establishment with just the vet (Indian actor Om Puri) helping with animal care. Soon however local warlord Yeltsov (Marek Vasut, here frighteningly malevolent, seen more recently in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing) enters the compound, and the keeper is left to fend with his animals alone.

There's an obvious metaphor to proceedings as Ludovic watches over the creatures in his own institution while outside a different, and far more dangerous, set of beasts prowl the streets. Yeltsov's brigands even call themselves 'The Young Lions' and adopt a zoo cub as a mascot

  • a moment which, as they hold it up for a group photograph, reminds

one of the genocidal Nazi commander and his lemur in Come And See. Haunted by his past and unspecified crimes he committed while in a position of power, the question is whether Ludovic stays put either through a need to escape from the war outside and his own conscience, or through a genuine need to look after the animals. The situation is complicated by the arrival of the young widow Ankica (Gina McKee) and her son, both looking for respite and refuge after their personal experience of war atrocities. Ankica discover a more sensitive and regretful Ludovic when she comes across his private journals - but then the war intrudes again into their humanistic enclave.

The Zookeeper can be compared to No Man's Land, awarded the best foreign language film Oscar in the same year. Both cover the same contemporary events, although Ziman's film is the more intimate of the two, less satirical. In both, blue helmeted UN peacekeepers are in evidence although in The Zookeeper they are barely noticeable, standing impotent in the background. And whereas No Man's Land focuses more on the predicament of soldiery trapped in trenches, the present film finds its heart within the civilian Ludovic. He who, whilst in a uniform of his own (that of an animal keeper, in which he still takes pathetic pride), answers to no misguided loyalties on any side.

When we first see Ludovic he is roused from his bed, awoken by a dawn raid in the street outside - a moment that momentarily recalls the anxieties of The Pianist (2002). As he proceeds to and from his work, beset in turn by self doubts, moral isolationism and the demands of checkpoint guards, Neill gives an excellent browbeaten performance, his doomed gravitas conveying exactly the increasingly shell-shocked, anguished zoo employee, too many lives weighing in his grasp. Chief among the other pleasures of the film are the superb set, apparently constructed on an abandoned military base, but entirely convincing as a 'found' location. And as a corollary to Ludovic's own moral predicament, the rundown buildings containing despairing and bewildered wildlife are entirely apposite. The Zookeeper's supporting cast are also uniformly excellent.

Given the plight of the animals it would be too easy for the film to sentimentalise events and Ziman to his credit largely avoids this pitfall. The initial cremation of the big cat, the later burning of the Monkey House and the deaths in the wolf pen are all handled with restraint and during these events, Ludovic mostly internalises his grief and suffering. In fact this is the film's weakness; the zoo keeper's hidden journals and his grudging feelings towards the young family all indicate a sensitive man - especially in comparison with the callous Yeltsov - all but crushed by circumstance but still, grimly, hanging on. His story would have been helped and enriched by an opening-out towards the end in words as well as action, although the mute significance of holding hands - a motion signifying human connectiveness, which appears at key moments during the film - has its own articulate power.

While no masterpiece, The Zookeeper is well worth tracking down and it is puzzling why it has had such limited exposure on DVD. As far as I can discover it only appears on a region four disc.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Last Scene Femme72
Arkan: Pure coincidence? zapiekanki
Filming Location : Brandis? cool-cat-2
The '300' on his cap? paulborger
Good wpcoop2000
Discuss The Zookeeper (2001) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: