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An Interview with “Zoology” Director Ivan Tverdovsky

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A woman deals with life with a tail in the fanciful film Zoology from Russian writer-director Ivan Tverdovsky.

Leon casino, A shy woman entering adulthood discovers that she has grown, not just a nub, but a lengthy tail. Natasha works at the local zoo and lives with her religiously obsessed mother.

Natasha’s newly formed appendage becomes a metaphor for her transformation into a woman. Soon she’s dating a handsome doctor from the office where she had her tail examined. Life is not without difficulty however.

Natasha comes home one night to find her mother painting crosses on the wall of the house. Perhaps the doctor himself is more interested in having sex with Natasha’s tail than with her. And a visit to a dancehall turns into a nightmare when Natasha’s tail slips out of her dress and the other patrons run screaming from the establishment.

Free Press Houston hooked up with Tverdovsky via email to discuss his second directorial effort, which had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest.

FPH: In both of your films, Corrections Class and Zoology, you deal with the theme of “the other.” People who are outcasts. What is it about society that allows certain people to be ostracized because they are different?

Ivan Tverdovsky: I came to the world of feature films from documentary filmmaking. In documentaries, you work more with social issues, with issues of society. You are – in a way – a journalist. This remained with me. So there is social context in my feature films as well – both Corrections Class and Zoology. And I do look at outcasts because they are the most interesting and controversial members of any society.

FPH: Do you follow the current US presidential elections? If so, do you find parallels between Donald Trump and current Russian president Vladimir Putin?

Tverdovsky: I am not interested in politics. It does not exist for me. I only remember about it when I need to look at my passport for some reason. So I don’t know much about Trump, and probably not much about Putin either. I hardly believe that politicians are to blame for problems of the society.

FPH: You are very hands-on with your films. You write, direct and edit. Does this allow you to totally achieve your vision? 

Tverdovsky: My cinema is auteur cinema; it’s not mainstream. Of course, I do it with a group of people. Filmmaking is a communal process, but the core elements of the process from the idea until the final cut are in my hands. I will be honest – I am an egoist and it’s easier for me to work this way.

FPH: Are you familiar with the Brian De Palma film Carrie (1976)? I observed some genre similarities in that film and Zoology. In particular people fleeing from the dance and the scene where the religiously obsessed mother paints crosses on the wall.

Tverdovsky: No, I haven’t seen this film. Will check it out!

FPH: How long did it take make-up and effects to create the tail that we see on Natalya Pavlenkova?

Tverdovsky: It was extremely important for me that it is an animatronic tail, and not VFX. The actor must feel the tail. I adhere to the classical traditions of Russian theater that come from Stanislavsky, Chekhov, and Vakhtangov. It’s impossible – according to those traditions – for an actor to exist in something he doesn’t experience. Our make-up process was painful. It took several hours every day. But it really helped the actress, Natalia Pavlenkova. It was worth suffering for.

FPH: The mystic and author Gurdjieff wrote about an ancient time when people had tails, or as he describes it “the organ kundabuffer,” in his book “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.” Is this something you took inspiration from?

Tverdovsky: I haven’t read that book either. Thanks for creating me a list of things to study after this interview.