Dir.: Ivan I. Tverdovsky; Cast: Natalia Pavlenkova, Dimitri Groshev, Irina Chipizhenko; Russia/France/Germany 2016, 87 min.
After his stunning debut Correction Class, Russian auteur Ivan Tverdovsky’s second feature is a metaphor for modern life imagined through a wonderful mix of social realism and absurdist parody set in a provincial coast town in the Crimea, where middle-aged Natasha (Pavlenkova) works at a procurement manager at the Zoo. Life is miserable at home with her religious maniac mother (Chipizhernko) who spends the day watching television. At work, she prefers the animals to her conniving co-workers who are always playing tricks so she has more or less resigned herself to the fact that nothing will happen in her life, suffering silently but with dignity until, out of the blue, she grows a tail. This event seems even more sensational when her mother tells her stories of other women in the neighbourhood having grown tails after being possessed by the Devil. Natasha consults her doctor but tests are inconclusive. The hospital radiologist Petya (Groshev) is supportive and the two get to know each, falling in love against all odds. Even after she is fired at work (as a sacrifice for her incompetent boss), she sees life with Petya as a huge advancement on her past – until she discovers the magical properties of her new appendage.
DoP Alexander Mikeladze can claim much of the credit for the film’s success. The images are dispondently grim, as in Natasha’s home, her work place or the hospital. The only colour, a radiant blue, emerges when the lovers walk by the sea. ZOOLOGY conveys the angst of a society in limbo: the older citizens have returned to the blind faith of religion – but they use their belief mainly to ostracize others. The younger generation resorts to self-help in self-healing evenings, modelled on US television. But the main theme is isolation and a failing infrastructure: 26 years after the fall of Stalinism, most parts of the nation still look for a new identity, turning against each other, or living in total indifference. Pavlenkova’s performance in this fairy tale is stunning, Tverdovsky just keeps the narrative anchored in a desolate society, where a huge vacuum of soullessness and misanthropy makes everything seem possible. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 28 SEPTEMBER 2017