Based on the bestselling book by Diane Ackerman, this movie chronicles the efforts of Antonina Zabinski, brilliantly played by Jessica Chastain, and her husband Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) to save 300 Jews during WWII. They ran a covert operation in which Jews were smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and into their basement hideout, where they were hidden in cages and tunnels. Later, they were transported to safety.
While Dr. Zabinski fits the profile of a classic resistance fighter, Antonina demonstrates a different kind of heroism. Each day, she had to ensure the German soldiers surrounding the zoo didn’t suspect their operation. She was also forced to cultivate an uneasy relationship with Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the chief zoologist for the Nazi regime.
Antonina took her rescuer role several steps further, helping her guests survive emotionally, with their dignity intact. Each evening, after the soldiers left the zoo, she would sneak them into the house for piano concerts, dinner, and conversation.
Jessica Chastain delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, capturing the essence of Antonina—from her Polish accent to her intuitiveness. Some of my favorite scenes involve Antonina interacting with the animals: nursing lion cubs and bicycling alongside a young camel.
Director Niki Caro and cinematographer Andrij Parekh have succeeded in recreating the authenticity of the period, meticulously attending to all details from the bombings to the ghetto conditions to the effects of war on the zoo animals.
A must-see film!