Fables are interesting things. Generally thought of as cute tales for young people they really are stories with rather adult themes and oftentimes scary. Russian director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Corrections Class) has written a screenplay and directed a film that is presented as a modern day fable. It just has that feel to it. The thing is is that it is a rather up and down piece of work. Meaning certain parts of it are beautiful while others are blurry or puzzling. It is almost as if he took something rather simple (a lonely middle aged woman who finds her life suddenly rather different and has to make a hard choice about it in the end) and makes it more complex than it has to be because he tries to add too many elements in.
Natasha (Natalya Pavlenko – Winter Journey) is a middle-aged woman who still lives with her mother (Irina Chipizenko). A lonely woman who is…there is no other way to describe it…bullied at work (a zoo) by her female co-workers. She is the type of woman who is invisible to society until someone wants to pick on her. Amazingly things seem to change for her and for the better once she begins growing an appendage that looks like a tail.
That transformation plus some romantic attention from the younger x-ray technician, Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), she goes to see leads to Natasha changing much of her life. She goes to a hair stylist and gets a fresh young cut and dye. Her wardrobe also changes plus she also speaks up more with people. It is like the tail has spurred her into the onset of a second puberty.
At the same time all this is happening, rumours start swirling around Natasha’s neighbourhood amongst the older women about a woman with a tail. While waiting for one of her many appointments at the hospital, Natasha overhears many a senior talk about their fear of this freak with a tail and how even looking at her in the eyes can bring about death.
A bright light in the film is lead actress Natalya Pavlenko. She is fully committed to her character. No matter what weird situation Natasha is in Pavlenko makes it believable because of her dedication. She makes relatable and loveable this Russian character who lives in a milieu in which female strength and individuality are not encouraged. The right actress was cast in this complex role.
My confusion comes from not really understanding what Tverdovskiy is trying to get at or his message is. Is it that we should all be proud of and not hide our differences? At times I thought that is what he was getting at, but the seminal scene at the end and Natasha’s reaction to what happens makes me think I was on the wrong track. Bottom line is that it is all rather unclear. Maybe it is the combination of in-your-face realism with fantasy that made the message rather muddy for me?
What I did enjoy was the fact that it was a film that dealt with body image from a woman’s point of view. And not just any woman, but an older one. A largely ignored though vital subject. Interesting that a 20-something Russian male is the person that brings this subject to the big screen, though.