At First Glance: “The Zookeeper’s Wife”

World War II dramas are nothing new, so it may seem almost pointless at times to make another. However, as it turns out, there are so many stories that should be seen. So many we’ve never known before, or forgotten, about bravery, sacrifice, and resilience. If a given film can have a very narrow focus, it may in fact be more than worth leaning about. Even with tales of heroism from long ago, we can all learn something that’s applicable today.

The upcoming Focus Features film “The Zookeeper’s Wife”, is emotionally strong and compelling on so many levels, but it’s still appears to be a film worth watching.

This war drama stars Jessica Chastain (upcoming “Miss Sloane”, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), Daniel Brühl (upcoming “God Particle”, “Captain America: Civil War”), Johan Heldenbergh (“The Tunnel”, “The Confessions”), Michael McElhatton (upcoming films “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”), Iddo Goldberg (“Salem”, “Supergirl”), Goran Kostic (“Legends”, “Hiljadarka”), Shira Haas (“Ikaron HaHachlafa”, “Shtisel”), and Efrat Dor (“Mermaids”, “Downtown Precinct”).

The film is directed by Niki Caro (“McFarland, USA”, “42 One Dream Rush (Short 2010)”) and written by Angela Workman (“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, “War Bride”). It is based on the book of the same name by Diane Ackerman.

It is expected to be released on March 31, 2017.
I may, in so many ways, detest war films, or films that take place during a war, specifically WWII, but with this film, I will be able to look past this. It’s because of that feeling that I’ve seen it all before. It’s not often that a war film can interest me, so for me to be excited now is huge! Granted, it helps that I’ve read the book this is based on, and I happen to like the various people involved in bringing this important story to life. If I ever had any doubts or skepticism about the finished product, this trailer has taken care of them. I’m fully on board.

For starters, this is a story I’m sure so few know about or remember. Before this film was announced, I didn’t know squat about Antonina and Jan Żabiński and all that they did to save hundreds of lives. This is why film is so important and so powerful! From the mere announcement that Chastain would star, I started digging for more information. Eventually I purchased the book and started reading, which opened my eyes immensely. Some people don’t do this, which is fine, but at least they’ll have the chance to learn from this film, and hopefully want to know more. Inspiration can be had and if that’s one of the things any viewer takes from this film, I’d say this film achieved its desired goal.

Out of the three times I watched this beautiful and moving trailer, I never found myself unemotional. This trailer, which speaks volumes for this film, covers a wide range of emotions, depending one what was happening. It’s what will ultimately, I’m hoping, ground this film. In a short time frame, you go from the happy prewar days, where life at this zoo is constantly fun, and visitors are welcomed with open arms. And we can’t forget the joy the character’s get form seeing and being surrounded by the animals. Then there’s war. All the horrors. While this film may take a much more tame approach to showing what occurred during this time, it’ll probably still be shocking. I’ve seen “Schindler’s List”, and while this will be a vastly different film from that, where comparison’s aren’t even necessary, it’s telling, in some way, that I can still be shocked by the images I see in this two and a half minute trailer. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the talent between Workman and Caro. How well each is able to control the narrative to make sure this doesn’t edge into some over the top, well intentioned historical drama. If that happens, the impact overall that this film is supposed to have, which I believe it will, will be lessened and this will only be yet another film that takes place during WWII.

Fortunately there’s the immensely talented Chastain to ensure that her character stays as grounded as possible. If anything, she has proven time and again, with occasional bumps along the way, that her character’s will be pretty well fleshed out. This certainly explains why she takes on so many character driven projects. With regards to her character, something to look forward to is how she showcases these emotional and character driven arcs. She has to be strong, not just for herself, but her kid and those she and her husband eventually shelter. I’m already amazed at the resilience that was shown. How the real life Antonina managed, is almost anyone’s guess. With Chastain in the lead, to carry the majority of this film, I’m at ease. I can rest easily knowing this will be a rewarding film.

One thing that seems uncertain, is Brühl. I’m simply not recalling who he’s portraying and so seeing him look more than imposing and commanding, is throwing me. Does he just find Chastain’s character so alluring and he becomes fixated? Is it something more sinister? She clearly has some kind of relationship with him, but is it just to keep him pleased and not put herself at even more risk? Knowing and having faith that Chastain’s character will be well developed, I’m hoping we’ll see Brühl’s be more than just some kind of mini-tyrant. Although, some character’s can’t be more than what’s on the surface.

Once you’ve seen one war film, you’ve pretty much seen them all. That’s the running idea I have, which seldom leaves room for truly inspiring stories about people we’ve heard very little about. In the right creative hands, any unknown war story can become more than just another war film. Something that will stick with us, but not just as a good film, as something we’re proud to learn from and keep those lessons with us. With the world in a constant state of chaos, the lessons contained in this film may in fact be the ones we need to help each other get by.


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