Zoology, dir. Ivan I. Tverdovskiy│“It’s never too late to grow a tail” and know when not to do a film out of a mere whim. Following his awarded debut, Class Corrections, Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s second film focuses on a concept that is both the film’s catalyst and its weapon of self-destruction. A film cannot be an idea, especially when that same idea works as a cliché in disguise, wherein the stretched main premise is another sad old hat.
In Zoology, middle-aged zoo worker Natasha is a spinster stuck in a limbo of bland dependence, still living with her mother in a coastal town in the South of Russia and spending her days getting bullied by her colleagues. One day, when something visceral and unordinary starts growing on her back, she begins exploring a world of inconformity where she can be herself and hence, search for her own place in society. All the while, a love story is rooted in Natasha’s reinvention, gossip ensues and her mother, deeply religious, starts swimming in a sea of superstitions directed towards her own daughter without her knowing.
This melodrama fairytale exists somewhere between social critique, a coming-of-age film and a gloomier approach to the strand of fantastical cinema. And what starts by being yet another attempt at chronicling the evolution of a lead character into her own self, eventually falls short when it refuses to take itself and its caricature serious enough.
Upbeat and fairly indifferent to its catharsis, the metaphor at its centre is gradually snowballed into a very familiar definition of identity, not as surreal or as lovingly interpreted as it believes it is. Yes, we are all undoubtedly cut from a different cloth, and that can work for or against us: a blessing and a menace in equal measure. But why would one use such a simplistic argument to be manifested in a feature film when a shorter form could have gloriously theorised the same?
You can be sure there is a tail in Zoology. It’s just a shame that its texture is, in no way, narratively consistent. Nevertheless, calling it a waste of talent wouldn’t be fair. Its least nonsensical concern, the underused socially oriented comment, rubs itself on the humanity of the film that exacerbates the status quo of a totalitarian country in its third and final act. In other words, it wants to enhance just how the notion of individuality within one’s personality has been replaced by a sociological desire to follow the standardised elements of recognition. Whilst the film’s stereotyped world is overbearing, weakening its conclusion by taking the melodramatic appeal of ridiculousness way too far, one can understand some of Mr. Tverdovsky’s reasons if one is so inclined.■
│In cooperation with│
Zoology │ Director: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy│ Screenplay: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy│ Camera: Alexander Mikeladze │ Editing: Ivan Tverdovsky, Vincent Assman│ Music: -│ Cast: Natalia Pavlenkova, Dmitri Groshev, Irina Chipizhenko│ Producer: Natalia Mokritskaya, Mila Rozanova, Uliana Savelieva, Guillaume de Seille│ Production Company: New People Film Company / Arizona Productions / MovieBrats Pictures│Country: Russia / France / Germany│ Year: 2016│ Running Time: 87 min.│ International Sales: New Europe Film Sales│ Festival: Karlovy Vary IFF 2016│