TIFF 2016 Review: Zoology
Zoology is Ivan Tverdovsky’s second feature, following his well-received 2014 debut, Corrections Class, and what a peculiar film it is. A dark comedy and allegory in near equal measure, the film tells the story of Natasha (Natalia Pavlenkova in a stellar performance), a dreary spinster in her mid-fifties who works as a zoo operator, lives with her God-fearing mother, and doesn’t have a lot going on in her life. However, after experiencing some lower back pain, Natasha inexplicably grows a tail and shortly after falls for her doctor, Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), a charming enough fellow despite his ineptitude with the x-ray machine.
Natasha’s tail gives her a new found resolve which results in a drastic makeover and increasingly sunny disposition in addition to her new romance. From the beginning, Peter confounds with his lack of reaction to the tail, expressing a casual acknowledgement instead of fear or surprise. Unfortunately for both Peter and Natasha, the doctor may be singularly fascinated by the unique medical condition and less interested in the woman it’s attached to.
There are some compelling aspects in the film and the commentary on Russian society is effective and hard to miss, but the climax leaves the overall message muddled. There’s a lot that works really well in the film, including the performances and direction, but the it’s not enough to overcome a story that feels like it held back in its allegorical components but overreached (dramatically speaking) in its conclusion.