Zoology is a bizarre and strangely moving Russian film from Ivan I. Tverdovskiy, who has made some documentaries and a previous feature, Corrections Class. I haven’t seen his other film, but from reviews and from the interviews on the disc, it seems like it’s a deeply sympathetic film about a disabled girl in a special needs class. Any positive depiction of disability is extremely rare from the ultra-macho conformist view that prevails currently in Putin’s Russia. Hopefully Corrections Class will get a release outside of Russia in the English-speaking world in the near future.
This film is different. The Hollywood Reporter called it “Kafka Meets Cronenberg,” which is kind of redundant, since Cronenberg is so heavily influenced by Franz Kafka that he wrote an introduction to an edition of The Metamorphosis, but it’s an apt description. It’s about a middle-aged woman, Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), who works in administration at the zoo. She wakes up one morning to find that she has started growing a tail. Soon she undergoes medical examinations, and in the process, she meets Peter (Dmitri Groshev), her radiologist. They soon start a romantic relationship, which is her first. The town where the film is set is also rife with rumours of a witch with a tail, which obviously makes Natasha cautious.
It’s a remarkable film to come from a 29-year-old who is living under such a repressive regime as Putin’s. As you may expect, the film is first and foremost about individuality under a cloud of conformity. It also deals with the religious fervour that is widespread within the provinces of Russia, (not so much the major cities, where you can have some sense of ambiguity.) The woman’s mother is a true believer, and a big turning point happens when she starts painting red crosses all over the house. Zoology is a film that doesn’t completely add up at times, especially with the ending, but it’s also a film that will leave you wondering, and the shock image of the tail will be hard to wipe from your unconscious.
The disc includes interviews with actor Dmitriy Groshev and film historian Peter Hames, who adds some context to the film and its director.