Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
TIFF ’16: Zoology
has never been a swell time to be different in Russia, but standing out under
the Putin regime is particularly problematic. Middle aged Natasha has never
sought attention, so it is understandably alarming for her when she suddenly
grows a tail. It is more conspicuous than a scarlet letter, yet she has done
nothing to deserve it. The new appendage brings physical discomfort but it also
has a bizarrely liberating effect in Ivan Tverdovsky’s Zoology (trailer
which screens during this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
drab life could use some disruption. She toils as a food and supply procurement
bureaucrat at a provincial zoo, where she is regularly bullied by her cliquish
colleagues. Technically, she is still too young to be a babushka, but she
already has the frumpish look. There are no men in her life, just her
her tail is just another case of life dumping on her. However, when she seeks
treatment at the local hospital, she meets Petya, the radiologist. What starts
with a few humane favors prioritizing her appointments quickly progresses
through friendship into an unlikely romance. Petya is not scared away by the
long windy tail. In fact, he finds her uniqueness attractive—at least that is
the positive way of spinning what might uncharitably be called a strange
fetish. Regardless, Natasha starts sprucing herself up with makeup and
fashionable clothes. However, all the rumors circulating among the Orthodox
faithful regarding witches with tails, killing people with the evil eye does
not bode well for the long term.
the film’s highly unflattering portrayal of a callously judgmental Orthodox
Church, it is hard to resist reading allegorical meaning into Zoology, especially with respects to
Putin’s policies marginalizing and metaphorically gagging Russian GLBT citizens.
Clearly, the way Tverdovsky associates the tail with sexuality is not
accidental either. Still, the Orthodox Church are not the only ones on the
receiving end of his allegorical satire. A New Age self-help speaker also
really takes it in the shins.
Natasha, Natalia Pavlenkova is pretty incredible. Physically, she looks and
carries herself like two entirely different people. However, she and Tverdovsky
wisely do not flip a switch a transform her into an ultra-confident
super-woman. She still has confidence issues and instinctively defers to
authority (which is so very Russian). Nevertheless, there is a dramatic,
downright rocky development arc that Pavlenkova makes quite compelling to
watch. Similarly, Dmitriy Groshev avoids cliché, giving flesh and blood
dimension to Petya. Natasha’s mother (played by stalwart Russian thesp Irina
Chipizhenko) is essentially a moralizing stock character, but they are
necessary in a film like this.
its borderline body-horror, Zoology is
a surprisingly quiet and reserved film. It sure seems to have a lot of points
to make, but it never hits us over the head with them. Tverdovsky’s hand is pretty
steady on the rudder, but it is Pavlekova’s remarkably assured performance that
really makes the film. Recommended for fans of sophisticated contemporary urban
fantasy, Zoology screens again tomorrow (9/11) and next Sunday (9/18), as part of TIFF 2016.
Labels: Russian Cinema, TIFF '16