Entries tagged with “Jessica Chastain”.


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.

 

I had this film recorded on my cable TV memory device for quite a while. I was quite curious now to see it with my own eyes, after the dust of the extreme reception it enjoyed settled. Some of the critics I mostly admire declared it no less than a masterpiece. Among them the late Roger Ebert, although I must say his review deals a lot with similitude of the story and heroes with his personal experience. The film was also decorated with awards. Yet, many other reviews seem to incline of the other side. Mine included.

 

source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tree_of_Life_%28film%29

source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tree_of_Life_%28film%29

 

The story in ‘The Tree of Life’ is about the childhood and coming of age of a young boy in the Mid or South of the United States in the 50s or 60s. It is a little strange to say ‘the story’ as director  seems very little interested in story telling. What we see developing is a very Oedipal relation between a strict father (), and the elder of three brother kids, with the mother () becoming the moderating and caring member of the family, and an object of interest in the growing pains of a rebel teenager. I have no problem with story telling in different than chronological order, I have seen them all in movies – personal perspective, reversed chronologies – but in this case the logic was hard to grasp, and some details remained obscure to me. Did both younger brothers die? One drowning as a kid, the other at the age of 19 (his death is announced in the starting segment). If so, why does the first dead brother appear again and again after his death on screen? Are these supposed to be events that happened before his death? Or does the director intent to say that his presence continue to be with his family even after his death? All this is left in fog, and I am not sure what higher purpose this ambiguity serves.

There are two more plans in the film. One of them shows the elder brother many years later, remembering his young years, still in guilt and in an uneasy relation with his father (not clear if still alive either). ‘s  character seems somehow disconnected from the rest of the film, and from his young incarnation (huge performance by ). The most talked segment is the one that shows the origins of the Universe – it’s beautiful video art on Gregorian songs music, but I failed to be very impressed for two reasons. First, it’s not extremely original, the association with Kubrick‘s ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ that was often made shows this, but what made sense in a space saga is less fit to a mid-America family drama. The disconnect of the three plans, or four plans if I count the after-days final is the principal problem of this film. Its length, the story telling style, the lack of logic made the experience quite boring to me, despite of the beauty of the cinematography.

 

(video source Clevver Movies)

 

On the positive side I need to mention the good acting. Brad Pitt is at his best in the role of the tough but caring father, mirrored in his son with the same failure to communicate beyond the strict rules of American fathering. Jessica Chastain provides a strong emotional counterpart, with delicacy and  femininity. None of the two talk much, but they are real and alive characters in a dead (but colored) setting.

I read that at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the screening of ‘The Tree of Life’ was met with both boos and applause. The film ended by winning the Palme D’Or. I am afraid that if I were in the audiences, I would have been among the protesters.