TIFF 2016: Zoology Review

Contemporary World Cinema

Zoology, directed by Russian Ivan I. Tverdovsky, is a succinct allegory of what it’s like to be “othered” when a middle aged zoo worker (Natalia Pavlenkova) for some inexplicable reason, grows a tail. Her attempts to fit in an often judgmental society and also to find love is the focus of this dark comedy / surrealist drama hybrid that critiques many of the oppressive attitudes found in Russia and elsewhere.

I believe this film works on many levels, especially if you’ve experienced being othered or marginalized due to a personal characteristic you have no control over. At first, Natasha is ashamed of her appendage, seeking always to hide it, but later her shame turns into rightful rage against an intolerant society comprised of her religious mother, the Orthodox Church, her spiteful colleagues at the zoo where she is loved by the animals, and maybe, quite possibly, her charming suitor, the radiologist that examines her tail. In other words, she gets pissed and lets her freak flag fly, and rightfully so. However, her emotional well-being does not progress on a linear line, and I appreciated this film for showing that. There are days where we accept our blemishes, and other days, where we just want to stay in and not deal with the world. 

Even when the film deals with the fetishization of the other, it’s another way in which it’s seriously engaging in social commentary. Like amputee festishists, people may like Natasha for the wrong reasons and not see her as a full-fledged human being. When the film addresses this topic, it does so in a logical and matter-of-fact way that may be off-putting to some, but also darkly funny to others who get it (like myself). 

We all have a burden to bear, so pull up a tail and watch this film.

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.