ZOOLOGY (2016)

Russian director Ivan Tverdovsky’s black comedy Zoology is a dark satire on the invisibility of older women with a stunning central performance by Natalia Pavlenkova.

Thereby Hangs a Tail

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In Russian director Ivan I Tverdovsky’s compelling black comedy Zoology, Natasha (Natalia Pavlenkova), a frumpy middle-aged woman leading a dull life. living with her mother and working in administrative job at a zoo, where she has more empathy with the animals than with her malicious colleagues, suddenly grows a tail.

She keeps it secret at first, tucking it in her underwear, though it’s long, fleshy and at times it has a life of its own. But when it starts to hurt, she seeks help in the local hospital and the news starts to get out. Doctors react to it matter of factly but say there’s nothing to be done, it can’t be surgically removed.

However, from being an invisible woman in everyone’s eyes, Natasha’s life opens out as a result of the physical change and she unexpectedly blossoms. A new hairdo does wonders for her and she forms a bond with a kind radiologist from the hospital, Peter (Dmitri Groshev). Maybe he’s attracted by her strange new quality but she seizes moments of happiness and their relationship gives her moments of exuberance, such as dancing in a nightclub, that she’s never had the chance to experience before.

The disapproving elderly women of the small seaside town are rife with rumours of a witch in their midst. Natasha’s religious mother (Irina Chipizhenko) daubs crosses all over their apartment, though she doesn’t realise her daughter is the source. Scenes of caged animals in the zoo where Natasha works hammer home the contrast with humans.

Until Natasha starts to liberate herself, Zoology is set in a dreary world of deadened blues and greys, whether inside its institutions or outside. Natasha’s tail and reactions to it is a resonant metaphor for the invisibility of older women.The film’s magical realism is a dark satire of Russian contemporary life, sexuality, morality, health service and society, with an outstanding performance from Natalia Pavlenkova as she transforms from quiet depression to vibrant person in her own right.

Zoology premiered in the UK at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 29 September 2017 in the UK.

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