A Zed & Two Noughts (1985)
, written and directed by Peter Greenaway.
Or, as we would say in America, "a Z and two zeroes" = z00 = zoo.
I tried to watch this on DVD years ago but without subtitles found it hard to follow. An import Blu-ray corrects that and includes an illuminating commentary track by the director.
In a freak car collision with a swan two women are killed. (Chatter over the police radio: "A swan? ... What sort of a swan? ... Leda? Who is Leda? ... Is she the injured woman? ... Laid by whom? ... By Jupiter? Was that the cause of death?") Their husbands -- brothers and both zoologists -- overcome by grief, become obsessed with death, decay, and amputations.
They become erotically involved with a woman who lost a leg in the accident. They do time lapse photography of rotting plants and animals and we get to see a rapidly putrifying alligator, a dog and even a zebra. Other perverse subplots. The children are safe but I wouldn't want to be an animal in that zoo.
Often called "hard to watch", and I was in fact checking the time-remaining counter pretty often. It's not quite so heavy as the summary suggests, because it is obviously a vehicle for Greenaway's painterly imagination and quirky sense of humor. The exhilarating Michael Nyman score gives the whole project vitality.
Greenaway is always pretty strange. Of those I've seen, Prospero's Books
is the only film of his I've really enjoyed. This one has mostly medium distance shots; close-ups are rare.
Nudity, pretty unappealing, and much unwholesomeness. I'll never hear "The Teddy Bears Picnic" the same way again. Filmed at the Rotterdam Zoo.
Greenaway speaks well and his commentary track is worth visiting, although his esthetics and design concerns are pretty far afield from what I look for in movies. He admits to the criticism that, even by the standards of Euro art films, this one is complex and incomprehensible. It was his second feature and he was trying too hard.
He says we have three films struggling to get out:
- An eco-message of the World as Ark
- A study of light, both in traditional painting and in cinema
- The quest of the brothers to make sense of the world, with two conflicting sources of wisdom: the one that starts with Adam and Eve, and the one that starts with Darwin.
He remembers being grilled by David Cronenberg at a Toronto film festival and believes the themes of twinship and gynecology were extracted from this film to appear in Dead Ringers
a couple of years later.
All region Blu-ray import, 24.0hz, subtitles, commentary track.