Commentaries

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE



THE CHASTAIN CRUSADE

Film Review by Fiore 


Every year, Hollywood releases at least one film pertaining to the Holocaust.  This is because, as Mel Gibson knows, Hollywood is run by Jews; or as Mel Brooks said: “If it wasn’t for Jews and queers, there would be no Hollywood”.

Frivolity aside, it is good Hollywood continues to produce these films.  The Holocaust was a horrific time in history; and unfortunately, it is receiving short shrift among the Millennials.  I’m not certain if this is due to the revisionist history permeating text books today, or if the entire generation is only concerned with matters originating on their birthdays.  Whatever the cause, too many today have forgotten the horrors of the Holocaust.  Even more important, they have forgotten the attitudes and ideologies that led to the Holocaust.  Therefore, many cannot see the parallels between Nazi Germany and the current Muslim jihad and kalifate. Tragic, indeed, for those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.  So, I, for one, am glad Hollywood continues to make these films.  Back in my production days, I had the opportunity to shoot and edit presentations made by Holocaust survivors.  Their tales were compelling, tragic and heroic.  They are stories which should not be whitewashed in history.

That said, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is not a particularly good film, even though it has a good subject.  Starring Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh and Daniel Bruhl, it is based on true events of Jewish smuggling through the Warsaw Zoo during the Nazi occupation of Poland.  The film is choppy and tediously slow.  It serves more as a showcase for Jessica Chastain, who seems to be on a personal mission to create politically relevant films.  In her efforts to be a celluloid crusader, Chastain mugs for the lens too frequently.  Her German/Polish accent is spot on in some scenes, but weak and strained in others.

The film begins as if it is a female-driven remake of DR. DOOLITTLE.  Chastain whirls through a zoo, talking, in her own manner, to all the animals, who love her endlessly.  The opening scene sets up the running theme through THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE that animals are better than humans.  It’s a message sure to cause ripples of joy among members of the Sierra Club.

Act two of THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is like watching paint dry.  Screenwriter Angela Workman takes a sabbatical from face-paced writing and drags the technicians, actors and viewers through a quagmire of needless scenes.  The problem is one of adaptation.  To concentrate on the star’s role, scenes are established so Chastain can shine at the expense of the flow of the story.  Because of this, a key character transition, where Chastain’s husband, Jan, played by Heldenbergh, suddenly shifts from zoo keeper to freedom fighter, is glossed over, creating a sequential rift in the plot.  Jan’s story is more compelling, unfortunately, Heldenbergh is not the star.

The antagonist in the film is obviously the Nazis.  As an aside here, no one ever details why the Nazis hated the Jews so much, and why they felt it was necessary to remove them from the Earth.  Just show the grey or black uniform, or the swastika, and the image of evil is immediately ingrained.  It is like a bearded man wearing a turban.  The Nazi malevolence is embodied in Burhl’s character of Lutz Heck.  He plays the part well.


1.1        KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      STOPPED AT THE GATE
2.      HELPING THE ELEPHANT
3.      THE BASEMENT DISCOVERY


Director Niki Caro weaves a meandering tale, and receives little help from Editor David Coulson.  As a result, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE loses its impact, and then endures for at least 40 minutes longer than necessary.  The tale’s time transitions are sporadic and perplexing. 

Let’s look at the report card for THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE:

ACTING = C
CINEMATOGRAPHY = C
SOUND/MUSIC = C
EDITING = D
LIGHTING = C
SCRIPT = D
SFX = D
ACTION = D



There are many good films about the Holocaust.  THE PIANIST; DEFIANCE; THE READER; IN DARKNESS; OUT OF THE ASHES; LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL to name just a few; but THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE doesn’t come close to the lofty heights those films attained. 

2 comments:

Ken Burke; Pat Craig said...

No argument from me that the message of the Holocaust needs to keep being told, but we do diverge on the merits of "The Zookeeper's Wife." Using the academic numerical system I noted in my response to your review of "Ghost in the Shell," I'd say your individual grades here come out to 1.5 (about a D+) while I went for 4 of 5 stars. My details are at the same site as my review of "Ghost in the Shell" (http://filmreviewsfromtwoguysinthedark.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-zookeepers-wife-ghost-in-shell.html), but I will say about Jan that my wife read the book that "The Zookeeper's Wife" is based on (based on the actual Antonina's diaries) where she claims it was her idea to hide the refugees in their home, not his as shown in the film.

If true, that doesn't diminish his invaluable actions to make the whole thing work so well for so long but it may give some further reason to defend the focus on her. If not, then it's just back to the basic reality that the diaries and the source book put the focus on her so it's no surprise that the current film does as well, fully justified or not. I'd also say that the technical elements aren't as bad as you feel they are, but I'm sure we'll just have to disagree on that. However, I do agree on your suggestions for other films about the Holocaust that are well worth anyone's time to watch. Ken

FIORE said...

Ken, my friend, your comment rambles so much I was tempted to take out my red pen. It's the old English teacher in me. I'm not sure what you are saying, other than your wife thinks the book is better than the movie; and I think that is the case in most instances.