Aborderline kidpic set during the final months of Nazi-occupied Paris, “Tales from the Zoo” is an effectively realized but ultra-slim slice of whimsy that’s likely to segue rapidly to the small screen even on home turf France. A co-production with Hungary, with Budapest repping a not-so-gay Paree, yarn about a young girl’s hero worship of her dead father doesn’t bring much new to the World War II table.
Eight-year-old tyke Philippine (an assured Salomee Stevenin) lives with her father and grandparents. When Dad is executed one night by Germans, grandfather Fernand (Claude Rich) constructs an elaborate fiction to make her believe Dad is still alive and fully functioning as a Resistance hero.
Tale springs an interesting twist halfway through, with Philippine discovering the old man’s ruse and being talked into playing along by her grandmother. Thereon, the focus shifts equally to Fernand, who has his own (paternal) reasons for building a heroic rep for his cowardly son.
Within its own proscribed limits, the movie is smoothly directed by veteran Philippe de Broca and competently acted by its Gallic leads. As the young girl, Stevenin is poised without being bratty, with Rich amiable as her granddad. Hungarian locations are not so persuasive for wartime Paris, though Magyar lenser Janos Kende’s work is solidly pro. Charles Court’s lyrical score bathes the pic in a warm glow.
Title stems from the fact that Rich’s character is head of the Paris Zoo.