In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.
LESSON #1: WONDER WOMAN IS THE HEROINE AND FILM WE ALL DESERVE THIS SUMMER— It doesn’t matter how you feel about the DC Extended Universe or the stylings of Zack Snyder, you owe it to yourself to see Wonder Woman this weekend or soon. Sure, it’s another origin story, but I guarantee this is one you haven’t seen before. This isn’t the fourth time we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents killed. This is a hero that the movie writers got right and absolutely nailed. Gal Gadot (and that smile of hers) is an absolute treasure. She’s deserves the importance and pedestal people are assigning to her. Wonder Woman matters to more than just women and feminism. Anyone still ranting about any all-female favoritism needs to shut up. Go see the movie. It will earn your praise.
LESSON #2: JESSICA CHASTAIN IS A REAL HERO IN THE MAKING— Speaking of Wonder Woman, women deserve improved treatment across the board and I’ll all for those for who stand up and call out the needs and problems. Bravo to Jessica Chastain! The A-list actress called the onscreen representation of women in this year’s lineup of Cannes Film Festival films “quite disturbing” during a press conference. That is a woman of principles. She’s right and more needs to be done.
LESSON #3: BLACK GIRL MAGIC EXISTS AND IS COMING SOON— Speaking of empowerment of women, the stars of awesomeness are aligning to turn the buddy movie template on its ear. Recording artist Rihanna, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, and Selma director Ava DuVernay are teaming up with Netflix for a new film that screens the title of this lesson. It the words of former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, “can’t wait.”
LESSON #4: WAY TO GO, GEORGIA!— I am no southerner, but raise a glass of moonshine to the Peach State. Recent film industry studies have tallied Georgia as the number one location in the whole world for film production. The United Kingdom was #2. Not New York. Not California. Be watching for their logo in film credits. Chances are you’ve been seeing it more than you realize.
LESSON #5: DO YOU BUY MAINSTREAM VR AS A THING FOR MOVIES?— I don’t know about you, but I laugh when I see someone with their cell phone strapped to their face doing some kind of VR display or experience. Talk about sitting too close to the screen like our mothers told us as kids. I turn into Nelson from “The Simpsons” and secretly hope they walk into a wall or fall from small heights. Apparently, VR might just be a new medium for film experiences. Oscar winning Birdman and The Revenant director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is bringing VR to the forefront and demonstrated the technology and its film-viewing capabilities at the Cannes Film Festival in France this past month with his Carne Y Arena project. So, what do you think of this? Revolutionary tech or decadent fad?
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.
The Zookeeper’s Wife, baed on the novel by Diane Ackerman, recounts the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, and how they secretly used the Warsaw Zoo to save over 300 Jews who had been imprisoned during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Tackling the Holocaust is no new thing for Hollywood, as dozens (if not hundreds) of films and documentaries exist, telling the stories of those who suffered in the world’s greatest genocide. It might be easy, in fact, to brush aside The Zookeeper’s Wife, and assume it cannot reach the greatness of films like Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, or The Pianist. But that would be a mistake.
The first thing you’ll (hopefully) notice, during the credits, is that this film is written/adapted and directed by women. Niki Caro helms the co-written project by original author Diane Ackerman and Angela Workman. Considering the story is based on the discovered journals of Antonina Żabiński and told mostly from her perspective, these are fantastic choices. If you haven’t heard, Hollywood has a real problem when it comes to opportunities for women, and The Zookeeper’s Wife is a perfect example of the great movies we can get when talented female artists are provided the chance to shine.
What makes The Zookeeper’s Wife stand out in a crowd of Holocaust-themed films is its blend of genre and style. A large portion of the movie’s opening is spent getting to know Antonina and Jan Żabiński. We are given the chance to connect with why this zoo is so important to them and really get a feel for their character – the same traits that will eventually lead them to caring for needy Jews instead of animals. The movie’s focus on the zoo early on will make animal lovers very happy. As the film progresses it has sections that feel very biopic in nature, while others are dramatic, and yet other scenes capture a real sense of war (with some stunning cinematography by Andrij Parekh). One gorgeously shot scene of note has a family being surprised by the snow they notice on a hot summer’s day, only to realize as it falls around them that it isn’t snow at all, but ash, something indicative of a nearby tragedy. This powerful, emotional moment is one of several in the film where its iconic imagery will become burned into your mind as you recall the feelings you experienced when seeing it on screen. The film also does not shy away from the horror of what Nazi Germany did to the many Jews of European nations. There are a few gasp-worthy moments but nothing too bloody. Be warned – animals do perish, and sometimes in heartbreaking manner, so young viewers who may be affected by seeing this should probably avoid this film.
Jessica Chastain leads a slew of great performances and exhibits an elegant strength that is perfect for this period setting. Her male co-stars are all up to the task, Daniel Brühl displaying a selfish disregard for both animal and human life while trying to outwardly proclaim that he has a soul, and Johan Heldenbergh tortured by his need to help others and fear of what this strain may do to his marriage.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is an incredible story. It’s portrait of empathy for the marginalized and oppressed comes at a time when the world really needs to see it. The Żabińskis were not Jews themselves, but sacrificed greatly to fight against injustice simply because it showed up on their doorstep one day. Their efforts saved many lives and the film captures the emotional swings of this so well. This is an inspirational film well worth seeing and learning from, just don’t expect a dry eye while doing so.
Emotional Takeaway: RADICAL COMPASSION
Khen Lampert identifies compassion as a special case of empathy, directed towards the “other’s” distress. Radical compassion is a specific type of general compassion, which includes the inner imperative to change reality in order to alleviate the pain of others. This state of mind, according to Lampert’s theory, is universal, and stands at the root of the historical cry for social change. This is exactly what we see from Antonina and Jan Żabiński in The Zookeeper’s Wife. It is tragic and rage-inducing to see the what Nazi Germany did to Poland, but the takeaway here is that when people step up and forego their own safety and comfort to put others first, lives can be saved and history can be changed. See this film because it is a very well-made movie that tells a compelling story through great performances and technical mastery, but walk out of it with a renewed purpose and outlook on life outside of your personal bubble.