Opening with a patient, glistening beauty The Zookeeper’s Wife meets its World War II subject with an earthy passion. A familiar aesthetic is nevertheless enlivened by director Niki Caro. She quickly captures a sense of awe for the animal kingdom that is particularly attuned to a certain part of our humanity, a holistic eye that carries over to the human story at hand.
At once a star vehicle perfectly suited to Jessica Chastain (if you forgive a few chapters that forget her entirely) and a stately untold true story, the film is more absorbing than its recent biopic contemporaries. Chastain plays Antonina Zabinski, the wife and corunner of the warsaw zoo doing the Nazi invasion of Poland. They devise a plan to smuggle Jews out of the nearby ghettos, using their Nazi-overtaken grounds as a hiding place. Over the ensuing months, the refugees and rescuers develop something of a familial bond. For most of the running time, the Jewish struggles are given as much emotional consideration as Antonina’s terrified caregiving, the scattered focus still coherent thanks to richly composed feeling.