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The Zookeeper's Wife


Jessica Chastain stars in a scene from the movie "The Zookeeper's Wife." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Focus Features)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- Moviegoers of goodwill may ask themselves, while watching the fact-based historical drama "The Zookeeper's Wife" (Focus), why they aren't enjoying themselves more. The story the film tells is undeniably inspiring. But the manner in which it's told is dramatically thin.

That's certainly not the fault of Jessica Chastain, who brings brio to her portrayal of the spouse of the title, Antonina Zabinski. Together with her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), Russian-born Antonina enjoys an idyllic life in Poland peacefully presiding over the Warsaw Zoo where her unusual affinity for animals proves a valuable asset.

All that changes Sept. 1, 1939, with the Wehrmacht pouring across the Germany-Poland border, and the Luftwaffe raining down bombs from the sky. What remains of the devastated zoo is eventually put under the supervision of Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Zabinskis' counterpart in Berlin -- a colleague and acquaintance before the outbreak of war.

Powerless to save many of the animals in their care, the Zabinskis turn to rescuing people. They begin on a small scale by sheltering Magda (Efrat Dor), a close Jewish friend who -- along with her husband, Maurycy (Iddo Goldberg), also an old pal -- is about to be confined in the now-infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

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