Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"This modern fairytale has its dark side, but it’s not as grim as something the Brothers Grimm would have concocted."

Zoology is one of those rare films that operates really well on a few levels with a kind of quiet confidence that is frequently missed. It's a bizarre comedy about a middle aged woman who somehow grows a tail, whilst also being tender coming of age story. A shaky knowledge of post-communist Russia suggests that this may be allegorical, a great upheaval affording a new lease of life to a repressed generation, but there’s plenty to enjoy without any deep understanding of Soviet politics.

Natalya Pavlenkova stars as the tailed woman. She works as a office assistant charged with ordering in food supplies for a zoo, and lives out the rest of her existence hiding her smoking from her elderly mother. Her colleagues are cackling Viz cartoons brought to life, corpulent women that talk behind her back, tease her, and generally act as if she is an imposition on their mundane lives.

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As her tail continues to grow, she seeks out medical help, but her anomalous growth is met with little surprise by most practitioners she sees and they simply send her through a Kafka-style charade of getting successive and clearer X-rays. When the kindly specialist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev) allows her an after hours appointment, she buys him a gift of wine, and a sweet romance framed as a blossoming teenage liaison ensues.

They share their first drink together, as well as a kiss, a dance and a few intimate secrets: the zoo at night, and Peter’s favourite spot to do a bit of washbasin sledding. It’s bizarre to watch these adults act like teenagers, but as Natalya changes her image to one that is less dowdy, and as director Ivan I Tverdovskiy frames her in ways that make her look small and unassuming, she begins to transform into the adolescent the film seems to portray her as.

This modern fairy tale has its dark side, but it’s not as grim as something the Brothers Grimm would have concocted. News of a shapeshifting devil that appears as a woman with a tail begins to circulate, and an unfortunate incident at the peak of Natalya’s confidence brings her crashing down to mundanity. Tverdovskiy ends the film just shy of a fast resolution, but it’s a sly directorial move that shouldn’t be spoiled.

Overall, Zoology wouldn’t feel out of place as an extended segment in György Pálfi’s Taxidermia, and it feels a little to slight despite its meagre running time, but that shouldn’t dissuade audience from seeking out this weird slice of fairy tale, regardless of whether they can parse the buried allegory or not.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2017
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A quiet, middle-aged zoo employee wakes up to discover that she has grown a tail.
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Director: Ivan I Tverdovsky

Writer: Ivan I Tverdovskiy

Starring: Masha Tokareva, Natalya Pavlenkova, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Dmitriy Groshev, Anna Astashkina, Irina Chipizhenko, Zhanetta Demikhova, Yulia Pimkina, Anastasiya Baklanova, Katya Alexandrina, Ella Sanko, Nelly Vasilyeva, Valentina Popova, Ludmila Shestakova, Yuriy Vnukov

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Russia, France, Germany

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