Zoology review – Natalya Pavlenkova is superb in a sly contemporary fairytale from Russian director Ivan I Tverdovsky

Natalya Pavlenkova is superb in a sly contemporary fairytale from Russian director Ivan I Tverdovsky

Growing a tail might be the best thing that ever happened to the central character in Zoology, a complex story told in a compact, satisfying fashion. Director Ivan I Tverdovsky’s second feature (after 2014’s Corrections Class) is a sly contemporary fairytale that speaks to Putin’s Russia but resonates much wider, as it explores the cost of standing out from the crowd in a time when conformity seems a much easier, safer option.

Natasha (a wonderful, beautifully nuanced performance from Natalya Pavlenkova) is a middle-aged procurement manager at a zoo. She has a better relationship with the caged animals than she does with her cruel colleagues. Life is drab and unfolds in shades of grey until she starts to grow a tail. It doesn’t seem to cause her distress or inconvenience, and her own special secret becomes a great catalyst for change. Being different brings Natasha to life. She attracts the attentions of a younger doctor (Dmitriy Groshev) and begins to engage with the world. A moment of unguarded joy dancing in a club is guaranteed to lift the spirits.

Natasha’s awakening comes with a price measured in the spiteful gossip of elderly neighbours, the priest who refuses her communion and a mother who paints red crosses on the walls of their flat to ward off evil. The burden of her individuality might be too much to bear.

One of the great achievements of Zoology is the effortless way it encourages the suspension of your disbelief. The premise seems ridiculous on paper but it is handled with such conviction and wit that you never doubt it. Pavlenkova’s rich, emotional performance is one of the reasons it becomes such an involving, touching film but Tverdovsky’s sure touch, bone-dry social satire and affinity with the outsider confirms him as a talent to watch.

Selected release from Fri 29 Sep.

Zoology


  • 2016
  • Russia/France/Germany
  • 1h 23min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
  • Written by: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
  • Cast: Masha Tokareva, Natalya Pavlenkova, Aleksandr Gorchilin
  • UK release: 6 October 2016

Natasha (Pavlenkova) is a middle-aged procurement manager in a Russian zoo who has a grey and drab life until she starts to grow a tail. Her new appendage brings her to life, but her individuality comes with a price. Pavlenkova’s rich, emotional performance gives emotion and involvement to Tverdovsky’s bone-dry social…

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