Zoology at Fantastic Fest
As we get older, our bodies change. Hair grows in places, it goes away in other places. Wrinkles form, things move around. Nothing stays the same.
But no one expects to grow a tail later in life.
Directed by Ivan Tverdovsky this Russian-language film about middle aged Natasha (Natalia Pavlenkova) who works at the zoo and lives at home with her elderly mother in a small town easily manages to stay away from from usual filmmaking tropes.
In her quest to seek help with her unusual problem, Natasha goes to the doctor to seek help with her problem. Finding help in the Russian health care system isn’t easy. Natasha has to be sent to get an X-Ray (which seems about as hard as getting an MRI is in the USA.) Then Natasha has to get another X-ray when the first one isn’t perfect. It’s a good thing that that the X-Ray tech (Dmitry Groshev) is both attractive and is seemingly unperturbed by Natasha’s problematic posterior development.
Throw in a little Russian Orthodox devoutness and a mother who is worried about the “devil with a tail” in their ‘hood, and you have a film that does a lot with character and story with minimal reliance on special effects.
While my knowledge of current Russian health care isn’t great, based on the stories from my friends about other post-Soviet health care, I’d be curious if the director was trying to make a point about the Russian health care system with Zoology.
One of the interesting things about this film is the number of women who are on screen. All of Natasha’s co-workers at the zoo are female, the people waiting in line at the doctor’s office are female. That’s a long way away from the usually bro-tastic take on life in American films. As the The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media tells us, in films in 2015:
In films with a female lead, male characters appear about the same amount of time as female characters (24.0% compared to 22.6%). This means that even when women are featured in a leading role, male characters appear on screen just as often.
It must be said that the film’s climatic sexy-romp-with-a-tail doesn’t go where you are expecting it to go, which is a great thing. Watching the film at Fantastic Fest, I looked over at the two women next to me who’ve also been at Fantastic Fest for many years. During that aforementioned sexy romp, both of my friends were doing different versions of watching that scene with their hands over their eyes.
For a certain kind of film, watching through your fingers is the highest complement possible. This is that kind of film.