Director Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s Zoology is a satire focusing on Natasha, a middle aged women living a solitary existence, an outcast owing to her perturbing abnormality. The film follows her attempts at being accepted into modern day Russian society, which Ivan has described as “no longer celebrating individualism but rather dictates uniformity”. Zoology provokes moments of laughter paralleled with heartbreaking scenes, it’s addictive and has lingered in my mind since the first screening. It was an honour to chat with Ivan during the London Film Festival to find out how he made such an engrossing and socially significant feature. Enjoy!
You said you wanted to focus the film on the segment of people who are fighting or looking to be independent, alongside the relationship between human beings and animals. What fascinated you about these subjects, and what do you hope people will take away from the film?
I’m just trying to convey that the person does not distinguish the nature of the animal. Many do not agree, but I think the questions that arise from the audience after watching the movie provokes this conversation. In nature, no object is similar, each is unique. Humans try to standardise and regulate the function of their existence. When a person fails to live in this universal framework, he struggles with the pain of trying to explain to himself what is wrong. We only need to remember that everything in nature is unique, man is unique in himself. Zoology is a reminder of this.
In Zoology we find both sadness and a comedic awkwardness where things always go wrong for our heroine. What draws you to depict these diametric sentiments?
With all the drama and seriousness, I am a great fan of irony in life. I have a solid sense of humour which comes naturally and often enhances my day to day life. Movies, I think, are the same as well.
This is the third film you have worked on with Natalya Pavlenkova, did you write the script with her in mind?
Yes, it so happened that the script was written specifically for Natalia Pavlenkov. I love working with her, we have worked together previously, it was a small but significant milestone in my career. I wanted to put Natalia in something bigger and more individual. This film was born through a combination of plot and an accurate understanding of the character she would be playing. I usually do not adopt this method.
The film was improvised, within a limited framework, can you tell us a bit more about why you chose this method?
Yes, of course it is one of the main methods of my work. However, it is not the traditional method of improvisation, in that, the script for the actors contains the content of the scene and the dialogue (which is very detailed), and the actor must stick to the script, but I like the scenes to ebb and flow naturally, not giving too much direction to the actor’s movements. I like the actor to concentrate on being connected to the script from the inside, then being free to move in a way which feels organic and right for them and the character.
I like the scenes to ebb and flow naturally, not giving too much direction to the actor’s movements.
You made eight documentaries before embarking on Zoology, which also has an air of documentary style filmmaking, was it a conscious decision to continue that technique?
Unfortunately I am struggling to break free of this style of cinematography, I try to gently transform into reality the stories and ideas that arise in my mind, I am apprehensive of the rough-staging of artistic work. So the documentary experience that I have on the one hand gives me the opportunity to make history naturalistic, on the other hand it keeps me in its grasp, not allowing me to break free!
I can’t wait to see what you produce next!! Is there anything you can tell us about your next project?
For the past three and a half years I’ve been working on a documentary on the Russian police. We are at the editing stage. I also have a new script and we are aiming to start the preparatory work in the Autumn. Of course, it will very much depend on the fate or success of Zoology, because it might influence the potential arrival of new co-producers.