By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
The historical drama genre of film has taken a steady dive in recent years with the only film such as Spielberg’s Lincoln and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave making a lasting impact as of recently. After viewing Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, I began to realize the important significance of this genre of cinema. Starting with this emotionally immersive narrative of a couple whose occupation is that of Zookeepers in Warsaw, Poland. After the German invasion begins, the Nazi’s start opening the Ghetto and transitioning these innocent people into this atrocious environment permeating with violence and unethical actions against this culture. The Zookeepers notice this horrific dilemma and decide to battle back by extricating hundreds of Jews during this four year period. Immersing us on this emotionally dominating film that causes me to question the possibility of straying away from this genre that is centered around the atrocities committed by the Nazis and begin delivering strange historical stories that are inspiring with these heroic acts done by these courageous citizens.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is reflective of the significance of the historical drama in the film. With these films always being consistent with adequate portrayals of these accurate figures, and these films always being constructed in an intricate manner that is never exhibiting laziness. The Zookeeper’s Wife continues this trend of elements in the movie, with a stimulating use of cinematography and camera composition. Andrij Parekh prescribes a compelling use of lighting and pallet design for the visual perspectives of the film. With the light reflecting the tone throughout the movie’s one hundred and twenty-seven minute run time. Beginning with an introductory sequence in which these characters are initiated by presenting themselves to us as Antonina Zabinski and Jan Zabinski as these grounded and sincere people who are remarkably audacious who are filmed in a glistening lighting that is indicating a sense of happiness and peace during these opening scenes.
But, when dark things occur with these appalling circumstances you begin to notice a grimmer sense of lighting. Such as when Jan went to the ghetto for the first time and witnessed a 12-year-old girl get taken into the shadows by two middle-aged officers. We then see during his crime of extraction this disturbing of visual of this young girl revealing herself from the darkness with bruises and cuts freshly adjoined to her face. Then we pan down her body to notice the long streaks of blood stained on the inside of her legs that circulates a sense of an unbearable sorrow. This entire sequence is presented with a dark sense of lighting that is commencing a tone of sorrow and pain. These little enhancements into these shot design and composition are enchanting aspects that are astoundingly hard not to notice.
The performances continue to enhance the film’s provocative themes with Jessica Chastain stealing the show entirely, providing another reliable and dynamic performance. Displaying her range undeniably, by transitioning from a particular and self-loathing character in the underrated Miss Sloane. To this subtle and varying performance that not only shows her power from an emotional standpoint but a relatable one as well. Daniel Brühl is exceptional as well with his slimy and troublesome portrayal of this German commander that depicts this wicked man not only through his dialogue but his movements as well. The screenplay itself is the aspect that softens the blow of the passionate plot developments. Angela Workman adapts Diane Ackerman’s novel with an intent of focus upon the emotional disarray in reply to this dreadful invasion.
This conversion of the book begins to break the narrative into shambles with these characters never given the proper growth in this melancholy role. This flaw would’ve been utilized to a greater way of emotional consequence that would cause these impacts of sensitive issues to arrive in a more efficient format. The only other flaw that holds this film back from becoming an active model for historically based filmmaking is the unbelievably lack of resonance and feeling of duplication that came with this movie’s narrative and stylistic imagery. The perception of mimicking the past films based on this time in history such as Spielberg’s most marvelous films ever shown on the screen with Schindler’s List. The Zookeeper’s Wife feels like a retread of that movie at times but with a lessened emotional impact due to familiarity. This flaw is not consequential of the narrative, but it is because of the setting it takes place in causing a familiar tone and environment that fails to astonish us with its affectionate storytelling.
Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife is a dramatic and riveting film that provides some resonating sequences, but fails to crossover due to its certain sense of emulation. This movie begins to provoke thoughts out of me that are begging me to ask if the historically based genre of filmmaking should divert from the full period of the 1940’s and the overfamiliar antagonist of the Nazi’s. And, begin to demand time focused films that are centered around a historical event that is unconventional that paints antagonists that are not recognizable or even unwanted due to the possibility of painting ourselves as the bad guy. This conception could not only lead to freshness in the world of cinema but also significant narration on relatable problems that not only serve as reflections for our past mistakes. But, they serve as reminders and inspires us to what we could do better as a culture which is the purpose of poignant storytelling, isn’t it?
[as the Nazis invade Poland]
Jan Zabinsk: The country’s completely overrun.
Maurycy Fraenkel: They are forcing Jews out of their homes. They are taking us all to the Ghetto.