It’s not easy to make a good fiction movie about the Holocaust. The story was told many times from different perspectives, it has a well known ending and a definite set of tragic victims and of evil characters. Although the number of movies made annually in the genre does not seem to decrease, there were just a few in the last decades that succeeded to present a fresh perspective, a complex approach and a human dimension that turns the historic tragedy into artistic thrill: ‘Life Is Beautiful‘, ‘Schindler’s List‘, ‘The Pianist‘, ‘Defiance‘. Unfortunately director ‘s ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife‘ is far from this league.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1730768

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1730768

 

The exemplary story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski is worth being told and was already described in books and history articles. Jan Zabinski was the director of the Warsaw Zoo which was famous in the years before WWII both as a place of entertainment as well as a place of research and preservation of rare species of animals. With the breaking of the war and the occupation of Poland, the zoo was closed, and some of the most precious animals transferred to Germany. Jan was a member of the Polish resistance and he engaged in a very risky activity of saving Jews out of the ghetto of Warsaw, hosting them in the zoo and in his home, procuring false identity papers and transferring them to safety. He did this at the high risk for his life and for the life of his family. Hundreds of people were saved by the couple. For their deeds Jan and Antonina were both awarded the titles of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel.

 

(video source Focus Features)

 

Antonina Zabinska wrote a diary which was forgotten for many decades and American writer Diane Ackerman published a book based on it.  Unfortunately, the fiction film while using some of the factual material in the book does not build a story compelling enough to sustain the story, does not add anything, but just simplifies and romanticizes to some extent the characters without adding any motivational dimension. The best part of the film is the one describing the almost idyllic animals environment in the Zoo facing the brutal realities of the breaking of the war. The most cruel scenes about the ravages of war actually feature the dead animals, while the horrors of the life in ghetto are rather suggested. The decisions of the couple lack motivation, we just need accept that they were wonderful people, we learn late and incidentally about their involvement with the Polish resistance, but on the other hand there is too much insistence in my opinion on the ambiguous relationship between Antonina (good acting by ) and the Hitler’s zoologist put in charge with the Zoo. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife‘ turns an excellent page of history into just another Holocaust film, full of cliches and melodrama. The story and its heroes would have deserved a good documentary or a better fiction film.