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The Zookeeper

TIFF [2001]Go to Toronto International Film Festival 2001 index

Picture of Sam Neill from the movie The Zookeeper
Sam Neill

(Denmark, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, 2001, 108 minutes)
Directed by Ralph Ziman
Written by Ralph Ziman and Matthew Bishop
Cast: Sam Neill, Om Puri, Gina McKee, Javor Loznica

Movie Review

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 to safety.

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.

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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

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TIFF '01 Movie Reviews: The American Astronaut | The Bunker | Bunuel And King Solomon's Table | The Devil's Backbone | James Ellroy's Feast of Death | Enigma | From Hell | The Grey Zone | Hearts in Atlantis | Heist | Hell House | Hotel | Ichi the Killer | Last Orders | Mulholland Drive | Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror | Novocaine | Pulse ("Kairo") | Strumpet | Tosca | Two-Lane Blacktop | Vacuuming Nude in Paradise | Versus | Waking Life | The Zookeeper

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