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 wonderful mix of social realism and absurdist parody set in a provincial coast town in the Crimea.
Middle-aged Natasha (Pavlenkova) works at a procurement manager at the Zoo of her hometown. She is much more fond of animals than her co-workers, who mock her permanently and play silly tricks on her. At home she lives with a religious mother (Chipizhernko), who watches crappy daytime TV and only cares for the ageing cat (which we never see) but hear all the time. Natasha has resigned herself to the fact that nothing will happen in her life, she suffers silently but with dignity. Then, 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 goes to see a doctor at the hospital, who has an X-ray taken. Somehow the result is not satisfying, and Natasha has to repeat the procedure. The radiologist Petya (Groshev) is very 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 the two climb into an empty cage in the Zoo at night and Natasha discovers that her tail arouses the young doctor sexually.
DoP Alexander Mikeladze can claim much of the credit for the success of Zoology. The images are dispondently grey, 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. The drama feels like a metaphor for our modern day society in limbo: the older citizens have returned to a blind faith into religion – but they use their belief mainly to ostracize others. The younger generation goes to (hilarious) self-healing evenings, modelled on US television. But the main aspect is isolation and a rotting infrastructure: 26 years after the fall of Stalinism, great 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
Screening during BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016