War brews over Warsaw in 1939, and while life is still running its course, the Germans are slowly beginning to make their presence felt, with Hitler secretly preparing for the German invasion of Poland. Under those circumstances, the young couple of Jan and Antonina Zabinski continue their daily routine as owners and keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, but soon, as German Luftwaffe's Stukas hammer the Polish capital, their life's work together with the city, will turn to ashes. However, with the zoo liquidated for the war effort and many of its animals tragically perished, what was once an animals' zoo, will now serve as a sanctuary where Antonina, the humanist veterinarian, and Jan can hide the persecuted Polish Jews in plain sight until safe houses are found. That was Jan and Antonina's formidable, yet perilous plan, who regardless of the consequences, refused to wither before the Nazi menace, took matters into their own hands and sheltered 300 Jews under the Germans' noses. Written by
And again here with "The Zookeeper's Wife", yet another film standing stoically for virtue, forgets to actually be virtuous. Superficial piety poorly substitutes for the vitality of verisimilitude.
I'm not going to write a lot about the plot or delve into specific spoilers here, except to say it's supposedly based on true events, focusing on a Polish family using their forcibly defunct zoo grounds to help hide and save Jews from Nazi occupiers during the second world war. Now that that is established, let me say as well meaning as I'm sure all involved were in telling this story, it is written and directed to play into every lazy cliché, and feels forced and false far too often to ignore. It's simply not enough to facade a crudely painted platform for the humanities whilst being disingenuous to the holistic hindrances and hardships that hue humanity.
Although the film employs a perfectly talented cast, the acting is overwrought to the point of nearly being disgraceful. Like calculated clockwork; one single solitary tear systematically shimmers down Jessica Chastain's chaste cheek seemingly every five minutes. I don't necessarily blame the performers here, but rather Niki Caro's heavy-handed direction to them. Everyone is acting like their in an "important" movie instead of acting like real human beings faced with critical moments and difficult circumstances. We know the zookeeper's formidable wife is a woman of great integrity and capacity for courage and tolerance because -- in addition to pulling up her sleeves and working with the animals -- at every chance she affectedly plants affectionate kisses directly onto the snouts of any creature in her care without discrimination. Typical sniveling Nazi villain checks all the prerequisite boxes throughout, and is of course an arrogant predatory fascist stooge with fantastic notions of his own allure and aspirations of grandeur. Victims act like caricatures of victims, pulling faces and gestures with demonstrative abandon. A lot of shifting eyes here, or hysterics there -- everyone telegraphing their emotions when their supposed to be hiding them. Heinous character choices run rampant here, obviously meant to manipulate an audience's empathy or outrage, but backfire in there inauthentic regard for truthful human behavior and intellect. So many broadly melodramatic details clutter this telling without thought for the real-world recklessness that those choices would have actually been, that even without doing any research into the details of the actual events being portrayed I simply know as an common person of fair perception that there is no way they could have occurred in the fashion depicted within this film.
The cinematography, production design, and musical score are uniformly serviceable and generic. I give this project credit for decent aesthetic appearance and humane ambitions, but unfortunately cannot endorse such egregious posturing. I never felt a single true moment that made me forget I was watching a contrived scene meant to stir sentiment without sentience, and therefore constantly felt disengaged by its labored desire to be loved.
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