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War brews over Warsaw in 1939, and while life is still running its course, the Germans are slowly beginning to make their presence felt, with Hitler secretly preparing for the German invasion of Poland. Under those circumstances, the young couple of Jan and Antonina Zabinski continue their daily routine as owners and keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, but soon, as German Luftwaffe's Stukas hammer the Polish capital, their life's work together with the city, will turn to ashes. However, with the zoo liquidated for the war effort and many of its animals tragically perished, what was once an animals' zoo, will now serve as a sanctuary where Antonina, the humanist veterinarian, and Jan can hide the persecuted Polish Jews in plain sight until safe houses are found. That was Jan and Antonina's formidable, yet perilous plan, who regardless of the consequences, refused to wither before the Nazi menace, took matters into their own hands and sheltered 300 Jews under the Germans' noses. Written by
This is the second film in which Jessica performs a character playing the piano. The first was Crimson Peak directed by Guillermo Del Toro. In Mama however she had to be taught how to play the guitar for the needs of the horror film. See more »
Several scenes inside the Warsaw zoo show palm trees. At 52 degrees plus north latitude (a bit farther north than Calgary Alberta Canada) Warsaw Poland is way too far north to have palm trees. Therefore the zoo scenes were obviously shot at a more southerly location. See more »
Dr. Janusz Korczak:
But what of the children, Dr. Zabinski? My heart is no different than yours, I don't believe. I should not be here. They should not be here. You should not be here.
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An Important If Lesser Known Story From The Holocaust
Strangely in a movie about The Holocaust, my first reaction as I got into the main events of the movie was sympathy. As the Germans bomb Warsaw, I found myself feeling such angst for the animals at the Warsaw Zoo, who must have been absolutely terrified by what was happening. That's obviously not the main message or reaction that the movie is going for, but it's effective as a way of drawing us into the much more serious plight of Warsaw's Jews after the German occupation of Poland.
I'll say right off the top that this isn't "Schindler's List" - which, for me, remains the most powerful and most moving Holocaust film ever made. Having said that, it rightly honours the courage and sacrifice of the Zabinski family. Jan and Antonina owned the Warsaw Zoo. They took wonderful care of the animals - Antonina especially having a special bond with them - and as the movie opens (in the summer of 1939) all seems bliss. There are concerns about a possible German attack, but no one seems to take them very seriously - especially not Dr. Heck, a Berlin zoologist who is a friend of the Zabinskis and denied any interest in politics. Once war comes, though, the bliss disappears, Jews start to be rounded up and confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Zabinskis hatch a plan to save as many Jews as they can - starting with their best friends, then a girl who Jan rescues after she is raped by two German soldiers (it was an absolutely haunting and disturbing scene as she's led away into an alley by them, and actress Shira Haas was superb in depicting the absolutely traumatized girl afterward.) Eventually, they hid over 300 Jews in the Zoo, saving them from the concentration camps. It's a powerful story - a true one, and one that I was unfamiliar with (and I consider myself fairly familiar with that part of history.) Like Schindler from the aforementioned movie, the Zabinskis were eventually declared "Righteous Among The Nations" for their heroic work during the War.
The brutality of the war was clearly depicted; the terror that must have been felt by the Jews was felt. In a way, Heck sums up what is still to this day one of the great mysteries of that era: how Germans who, before Hitler and the War, were good and decent people could become consumed by the Nazis and their evil ideology. Because as the movie started, Heck did seem like a decent person - not someone you would expect to become caught up in the work of the Holocaust.
Jessica Chastain played the title character as Antonina. Her performance was good (as were the performances in general) but I found the fake accent she (and others) used in this movie to be at times difficult to follow and sometimes distracting. I really would prefer that actors in these kinds of roles just use their normal voices, because phony accents really don't convince me or give any feel of reality to the story. But beyond that there really isn't very much to criticize about this - except that perhaps the suffering in the Ghetto was somewhat underplayed, and the ongoing focus on the plight of the animals might have been a bit overdone at the expense of the human tragedy that was unfolding. (8/10)
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