THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE – Review by Susan Granger

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As years go by, more and more poignant survival stories that have been buried in Holocaust history are surfacing. This one begins on a beautiful day in 1939 at Poland’s Warsaw Zoo, where Antonia Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) is helping her husband Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenberg) tend the animals. That afternoon, she resuscitates a newborn elephant calf who cannot breathe – with its distraught mother’s at her side. But then German aircraft appear overhead, and bombs reign down, killing many of the terrified beasts, while others escape to roam the city’s streets. Read on…

Led by Berlin’s chief zoologist, sinister Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Nazis commandeer the grounds, saving only “prize specimens” for selective breeding, savagely slaughtering the rest.

Meanwhile, within the city, the Jewish population is being herded into a ghetto, locked behind barbed wire to starve or, later, be loaded on boxcars and sent to concentration camps.

Appalled at the brutality, Antonia and Jan come up with defiant plan. Since the German soldiers love pork, they’ll turn the zoo into a pig farm, feeding the animals garbage from the ghetto.

While Antonia cares for their dwindling menagerie, Jan drives his truck into the ghetto, where he hides Jews in bins, covering them with refuse and smuggling them into his human sanctuary, where they hide until the Resistance forges papers and transports them to safety.

Since Lutz Heck often makes unexpected visits to the zoo, it’s up to Antonia to keep him distracted, as jealous Jan observes from a distance.

While Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) radiates beatific compassion, Angela Workman’s perfunctory script is a flaccid, almost antiseptic adaption of Diane Ackerman’s haunting 2007 non-fiction book.

Sensitively helmed by New Zealand director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”), the most memorable moments include Antonia’s empathy with a traumatized Jewish teenager (Shira Haas) who was raped by German soldiers – as the tension mounts.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is nobly stoic 7, heralding one brave couple’s unobtrusive heroics.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.