Monday March 29th marked the Los Angeles Premiere of the newest Focus Features Film, The Zookeeper’s Wife starring Jessica Chastain. The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a real life story about a couple who were the Warsaw Zookeepers during WWII circa 1939. It is a heartbreaking yet inspiring movie about this Polish couple hides around 300 Jews during the Holocaust premiering at a much needed time.
What is unique about this movie is that is one of the few stories of WW2 told from a female’s perspective. What makes the movie even more powerful is that female director Niki Caro hired more than 60 women for the crew. Women were not chosen simply because they were female but truly because they had the best qualifications for the job. While interviewing Niki, she stated that she cant wait for the day that we don’t think it is unique to have to celebrate the fact that this movie was so heavily female powered.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is a story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan Zabinski who are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. After the Germans bombed and invaded their town and decimated their zoo, the Zabinski’s made the decision as a family to hide one of their dear friends in their home. After seeing the internment camps and the treatment Jews were receiving they decided to stash over 300 people all over the zoo. Although this movie was shot in 2015, the premiering in 2017 could not be better timed. The United States is currently in a political climate rife with breaking news about Mexican immigrants being split from families and deported while at the same time there being a steep rise in anti-Semitism, with Jewish Community Centers in 30 states being threatened with bombs on a regular basis.
The Zookeeper’s Wife feels very much like Schindler’s List except the setting was the Warsaw Zoo, which lends a much more gentle feel that is coupled with a strong, courageous feminine lead Antonina Zabinski versus Oskar Schindler. Additionally the true magic that Antonina as well as Jessica Chastain has with the animals on the farm brings some soothing to some gut wrenching scenes that make your heart feel heavy; however by the end of the movie you will have a renewed faith in humanity and our ability to provide self-sacrificing love.
In real life, Antonina and Jan Żabiński, who stood up to fascism at all costs including their lives have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem (an honorific from the State of Israel for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust). A distinction very well deserved. To this day, you can visit the Warsaw Zoo and home (now museum) and see how the Zabinskis sheltered over 300 Jews from German Nazis.