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November 04, 2016

Denver Film Festival: Zoology


Ivan Tverdovsky - 2016

A middle-aged woman faints at work, and later wakes up to find she has a tail. Not just a small growth, but something two feet long, that wags and twitches. It's the kind of premise that might be the basis of a comedy, but is instead is much darker. The second feature by Russian filmmaker Ivan Tverdovsky, by the end of the film, I concluded that even well into this current century, there are beliefs so ingrained from past eras.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the plain Natasha works at a small zoo, where she gets along better with the caged animals, than with trio of female co-workers who subject Natasha to cruel humor. There is no explanation as to how Natasha got the tail, but what ensues is a sometimes painful journey of self-discovery. In trying to get a satisfactory x-ray of the tail for a doctor, Natasha meets the younger x-ray technician, Petya, who indicates interest in Natasha. Getting her hair styled, wearing make-up, Natasha makes tentative steps towards a relationship with Petya.

In the meantime, as relayed by her mother, and people within her neighborhood, Natasha hears rumors of the existence of a witch, with a tail, who brings death and disease with her. The rumors, as rumors often do, become more outlandish, with Natasha even adding to the legend when speaking to one gullible woman.

I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that with the film title, Tverdovskiy views all of his characters as animals of one kind or another. In interviews, Tverdovskiy speaks of his film as being about the demands for conformity in contemporary Russia. With the reference to witches, Natasha's mother's deeply held religious beliefs, and even Natasha's visit to a fortune teller, there is this sense that spiritually, Russia is no different than it was five-hundred years ago. I even briefly thought that if discovered for her tail, Natasha would be burned at the stake. Countering the old superstitions, Tverdovskiy also takes some potshots at new age philosophy.

Running less that ninety minutes, Zoology might have benefitted from a little, er, fleshing out, with some brief explanations for a couple of scenes. Tverdovskiy's had previously directed eight documentaries, with the camera here darting between characters in several scenes. That the story goes into a very unexpected, and potentially controversial, direction is to Tverdovskiy's credit.

Posted by peter at November 4, 2016 07:02 AM