© 1985 Allarts Enterprises

A Zed & Two Noughts (1985)

OK, continuing with my exploration of creepy twin films…

A Zed & Two Noughts is one of the few Peter Greenaway’s films I hadn’t seen yet. As the third film he made with composer Michael Nyman and the first he made famed cinematographer Sacha Vierny, whom the director called “his most important collaborator,” and established many of the trademarks of his style that continue to this day.

The film opens with twin brothers Oswald and Oliver Deuce working in a zoo where they study animal behavior while their wives die in an accident when the car they are riding in collides with a large swan. The woman driving the car, Alba, survives, but her injured leg needs to be amputated. Both of the brothers start an affair with Alba, and they both become obsessed with decomposition, making time-lapse films of decay, starting with an apple with a bite out of it (Mac would probably sue for this today) and gradually moving up the food chain to film rotting shrimp, bloating alligators putrefying zebra. In counterpoint to all of the death and decay, Alba, becomes pregnant with twins fathered by the brothers. The whole thing plays out like a beautifully filmed, but demented nature documentary. Indeed, sections of the film are narrated by the master of the wildlife film, Sir David Attenborough.

Although I love the look of A Zed & Two Noughts, and of all of Greenaway’s films, it is marred by a problem that runs through most of his work. The characters are representative of the idle rich who care very much about themselves, but the director makes very little effort to make viewers care about them. One of the brothers is shown grieving at the site of the accident that claimed his wife, but the shot is so stylized, the visual content of the scene works to negate the emotional content. The same applies to most of the rest of the film. The result is a work that is beautiful to watch, although not very engaging.

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