(Denmark, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, 2001, 108
Directed by Ralph Ziman
Written by Ralph Ziman and Matthew Bishop
Cast: Sam Neill, Om Puri, Gina McKee, Javor Loznica
In an unnamed Eastern European country, zookeeper Ludovic (Sam Neill)
has been left with the vet (Om Puri) to care for the animals
in a small zoo: a couple of tigers, a panther, several primates (including
a pregnant monkey), a couple of elephants and various goats, sheep and
birds. The city around them is being shelled, and they're hoping for
a break in the fighting so that relief agencies can airlift the animals
However the sanctuary of the zoo is short-lived as a troop of soldiers
called The Young Lions, suspicious of the vet's ethnicity, take him
and brutally murders him, leaving Ludovic to tend to the animals alone.
As he retreats further into his own world, his bubble is burst by the
appearance of a young boy named Zioig (Javor Loznica) and his
mother Ankica (Gina McKee). Survival becomes paramount as the
war inches closer and closer to the zoo.
It's pretty rare that Sam Neill gives a bad performance, and
he doesn't disappoint here. Ludovic is the anchor in the film; he is
the caretaker of the last bastion of humanity in an inhumane world,
and Sam Neill's gravity as an actor is a perfect fit. All three
characters see hope in that zoo, that as long as the animals are okay
they will be too. The boy becomes attached to a she-wolf that has just
had a litter of pups; the mother adopts the pregnant monkey; Ludovic
struggles to save a bull Indian elephant that isn't getting enough to
eat. But the brutal power of war can't be contained, and the fight simply
becomes one to hold on to precious moments and then simply survive.
Aside from a scene whose tragic end is telegraphed for several tortuous
minutes, "The Zookeeper" is well directed, poignant
and, in the end, even hopeful.
- Lidia Ferrari