A woman grows a tail: what a wonderful, compact pitch. One doesn’t need to read much more for an interest to arise, and the curiosity indeed pays off. Zoology is a strange, slow-paced piece with a beautiful message deep in its surreal roots.
The film tells the story of Katya, a middle-aged zoo worker living in a small town on the Russian coast. Katya is what you’d call a loser: her hair is scraggly, her clothes are shapeless and dull, her colleagues hate and bully her, and she lives with her religious zealot of a mother. One day, she develops a tail, which has the opposite effect you’d expect: instead of hiding, Katya becomes more and more assured of herself, shedding her old skin to reveal a new woman who not only accepts, but glorifies what nature has given her.
She is helped by a radiologist, Peter, whose friendliness eventually develops into love interest. Peter seems to like Katya because of, and not despite of, her aberration. The tail gives a woman whose life had been nothing short of mediocre something to brag about. When urban legends of a witch with a tail start to spread around town, Katya revels on telling fearful old ladies at hospital queues never to stare at the witch in the eye, for they hold the power to kill – all along staring said old ladies deep into their eyes. As threatening as her change is for others, Katya knows there is nothing wrong with her.
The film is also a testament for body image, especially for older women, a topic rarely touched upon by our youth-obsessed media. It is indeed brave to talk of the woeful rules stipulated by a bullish media on older women (here represented by Katya’s horrendously childish work colleagues).
A slow burner, Zoology has some darkly humorous moments that will keep the interest of an arthouse audience going to the end, and will nag you afterwards for its Metamorphoses-like message.