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‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ film review: An overly earnest story of resistance to the Nazis

Jessica Chastain headlines the remarkable true story of a zoo-owning couple who sheltered Polish Jews during World War II.

World War II and the Holocaust are still being mined for powerful, tragic and compelling stories about the human spirit. The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book of the same name, is the evocative story of how zookeeper couple Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) sheltered 300 Jews within their property during the war.

The German invasion of Poland and aerial attacks on Warsaw has left the Zabinskas’ beloved Warsaw Zoo badly damaged. Animals have been killed, lost, taken away or slaughtered by the heartless Nazi Reich under orders from Adolf Hitler or his chief zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl). The scenes of the chaos, fear and pandemonium in the zoo are heartbreaking, as confused and petrified animals run helter-skelter or fall to their deaths.

A derelict shell, the zoo has become an outpost for German troops, even though Antonina, Jan and their son continue to live there with a few remaining animals. They gradually convert the zoo into a pig farm – a front used to rescue Jews from ghettos and shield them in a spacious basement.

Play
The Zookeeper’s Wife.

Director Nik Caro remains focussed on Antonina’s resolve and empathy not just for her animals but equally for her fellow citizens. She takes a stand of not running away with her son and follows that through with remarkable strength.

For all the emotional gravitas Chastain breathes into her timid porcelain-like character – juxtaposed with Jan’s bravery and struggles as he observes his wife’s proximity to Lutz – the film is burdened by the unbearable awkwardness of Americans and Europeans doing German, Polish and Russian accents.

Stories of the atrocities committed during WWII abound, but there are few told from a woman’s point of view, and fewer still that explore the impact on helpless animals, for example. This is what makes The Zookeeper’s Wife interesting. While there are tense scenes and earnest storytelling, something seems to have been lost in screenwriter Angela Workman’s adaptation of Ackerman’s book. The distilled story feels superficial and clichéd, and its deep devotion to Antonina doesn’t fittingly serve the larger and more complex subject.

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Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.