The Righteous Among the Nations are non-Jewish invididuals who have been honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, for risking their lives to aid Jews during the Holocaust. Two such people are Antonina and Jan Żabiński, married Polish zookeepers who saved over 300 Jews during their country’s Nazi occupation. The new film, The Zookeepers Wife, is based upon a book of the same name written from Antonina’s diary. I have not read the book but there is a beautiful book review from the New York Times that fills in much that the film omits. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/books/review/Max-t.html
Unfortunately the diary itself, though published in Poland, is out of print and the family is not planning to have it re-published.
Although there are plenty of metaphors and some beautiful camera work, the film is so bland as to almost seem to not be a Holocaust film. I say “almost” becuse there are some poignant scenes to remind us of the horrors. The Zookeepers Wife at times seems to be give more emphasis to the animals rather than the people. Antonina has a special relationship with the animals and seems to communicate with them better than she does with humans. This produces some very touching scenes but does little to further the plot. Although the zoo is not owned or run by Jews, Hitler’s chief zoologist after taking certain animals back to Germany for breeding in order to create “super beasts”, orders the rest of the animals killed. An absolutely senseless act.
Despite excellent acting Jessica Chastain’s portrayal lacks something. Whether that is due to her interpretation or the director is unknown. In a pre-screening disussion with the author, screenwriter director and lead actor at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Chastain explains how she developed the role through research https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeE7-HkvSk4 Something that makes this film unique is the significant fact that the author, screenwriter director and lead actor are all women.
A really interesting interview with author Diane Ackerman which provides greater background than found in the film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13k5o0RwrsM.
The story is touching and inspiring but someone forgot to rescue the film. It can’t escape.