HIC recommends: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! and ZOOLOGY

Why Don't You Just Die! | 2018 | Kirill Sokolov | Russia | Cert 18 | 99 mins | Russian language

Our regular HIC recommends piece on films we had planned to screen this season took a break last week, so here’s the first of two updates this week. You lucky people.

First up, our film last week was due to have been oddball Russian black comedy / thriller / horror WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!, the debut feature from writer / director Kirill Sokolov.

When Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) arrives at his girlfriend’s flat to meet her parents for the first time, he’s carrying a gift. Nothing unusual about that, other than it’s a claw hammer with which he intends to kill her father. He’s doing it for love, of course; his lover, Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) wants him to prove himself by offing her corrupt cop Dad Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), who she says is cruel and abusive to her. Poor old Matvei doesn’t stand a chance, of course. Does he?

Why Don’t You Just Die! | 2018 | Kirill Sokolov | Russia | Cert 18 | 99 mins | Russian language

Set almost entirely in a single apartment, this is a neat dark-comedy chamber piece that melds influences as diverse as Tarantino and the stylised violence of Park Chan-wook, the camerawork of early Guy Ritchie, the soundtracks of Sergio Leone or Ennio Morricone, and the colour palette of a deranged Amelie. It was completed in 2018 but took a while to build word-of-mouth festival momentum.

Critics reckon it’s “a clever, bloody as hell, often hilarious virtuoso exercise in excruciating harm-doing” (New York Times) and “rip-roaring … with a stylish command of craft” (Empire Magazine). It was slated for an April UK release before coronovirus intervened, and instead it can be found to buy or rent on digital platforms such as YouTube, Amazon and Apple TV.

A number of Russian films have appeared on HIC screens, from Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2014 political corruption drama LEVIATHAN to Kirill Serebrennikov’s 2018 love triangle LETO, set in the 1980s rock scene. But the film that sticks most in my mind is Ivan Tverdovskiy’s oddball fantasy comedy ZOOLOGY, which we showed at Hull Film Festival 2017.

Middle-aged zoo worker Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) still lives with her mother in a small coastal town. As she struggles for independence, she has to endure the absurd reality of her life filled with gossip spread by the women around her. She is stuck and it seems that life has no surprises for her until one day… she grows a tail. Embarrassed at first, Natasha decides to go further with the transformation and use it as an opportunity to redefine herself as a person and as a woman. With the new “accessory” she gets access to the life that she has never experienced before – she starts a relationship with a man, and she allows herself to be foolish for the first time in her life. But her second puberty eventually comes to an end and Natasha has to make a choice between reality and illusion.

ZOOLOGY | Ivan I. Tverdovskiy | 2016 | Russia / France / Germany | 91 mins | Cert 15 | Russian language

Shot in a restless handheld style, this magical-realist film is a dark satire of Russian contemporary life, sexuality and morality, “an intelligent meditation on gender, age and body image” (Radio Times) with strains of Kafka. It won Best Actress and Film Critics prizes at the Sochi Russian Film Festival, with awards and nominations at other festivals around the world, in particular for newcomer Pavlenkova’s performance.

It’s a rewarding oddity that deserves a wider audience, and if you missed it at Hull Film Festival 2017 or fancy revisiting it, you can find it to buy or rent on digital services including BFIPlayer, Apple TV, YouTube and Amazon.

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