The humanity-versus-bestiary debate being waged in global cinema this year lands in Russia with Ivan I. Tverdovskiy’s low-key fantasy Zoology. Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) is a middle-aged zoo employee who all but defines “frumpy.” She’s surrounded by people who trample her self-esteem through relentless emotional abuse, including her horrible colleagues and her mother. Meanwhile, she’s begun to grow a tail — not an awesome furry tail, but the fleshy sort that hairless apes would probably have — and while she treats it as a shameful secret, the pain it causes her lower back sends her to a bureaucratic nightmare of a hospital.
An unexpected romance blossoms with hunky young radiologist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), and Natasha begins to experience a newfound confidence alongside her new center of gravity. Early on, Zoology is cagey about the nature and reality of Natasha’s tail, with some hints that she might be imagining it, which plays into themes of the invisibility of older women in most societies, Russian or otherwise. The picture also addresses a question not often examined in movies, and an eternal source of debate among those who are noticeably different: Is it dehumanizing when someone is specifically attracted to the elements that set you apart? It’s enough to make you want to curl your tail between your legs and hide.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.