“The Housekeeper’s Wife”–A Movie Review   Leave a comment

You have seen “The Zookeeper’s Wife” before and you will see it again and, unless you have no heart or feelings for other human beings, you will react to this film as to others of the same genre in the past and future.

We are in Warsaw, Poland, on the eve of the invasion on the Nazis, their eventual takeover and starting on the road of exterminating the Jewish population. Yes, there is the child in hiding who makes a noise when a Nazi officer is near, the Jew, passing as a Christian with the blond hair dyed, going through a German security guard, the loading of trains to go off to the camps, ask falling on the city as if it was snow, the evil, not to be trusted German officer and every other cliche a movie like this has but remember a cliche has the basis of truth in it.

Where this movie differs is that the couple, who comes up with a plan to save Jews, are the owners of a popular zoo in Warsaw so we see all kinds of scenes with cute tiger cubs, monkeys, camels prancing around the grounds, rabbits, zebras, parrots, bisons, elephants, etc.

Jessica Chastain, as Antonina, and Johan Heldenbergh, as Jan, are the husband that are both equally involved not only the zoo but with what happens. The picture revolves more around the former than the latter for change. Chastain is impressive but many times her accent swallows up her speech but she never fails to be touching when working with the animals especially one harrowing scene near the beginning. Their son is played first by Timothy Radford the first 3 years and then by Val Maloku 1943-1945.

There is a standout performance by Shira Haas as a Jewish teenager who, unfortunately, the screenplay sort of forgets. There is Daniel Bruhl as a Nazi zoologist who promises the couple he will take care of the displaced animals and return them after everything is over though in reality he wants to use them for selective breeding just as doctors did with their Jewish prisoners.

There are a few other characters but none have the chance to show what they can do except Chastain, Heldenbergh, Haas and, of course, the animals and that is the major problem with this movie.

You will react reflexively to many of the scenes but the director Niki Caro and the screenwriter Angela Workman offer too much of a glossy picture of a harrowing time in history. Everything looks pretty including the scenes that make you pull back at what horror human beings can inflict on each other and, yes, animals. More time is given to getting to know the animals than the humans. Somehow the danger all these people lived under is dissipated.

Movies about the Holocaust should be continued to be made and seen but they need to offer more than a ‘formula’ showing. At the end credits, when you learn that the husband and wife saved more than 300 people and what happened to the couple during and after the war you’ll wonder why you didn’t feel all this while watching the film.

I recommend “The Zookeeper’s Wife” as a film to see what people do to help others in time of need and to not forget the Holocaust or what hate can do to people.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” movie trailer.


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