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“The film contains three absurd propositions that aren’t impossible but are highly improbable: 1) Siamese twins who don’t want to be reunited; 2) a woman fascinated by zebras who dreams of being raped by them; and 3) a crippled woman who gives birth to twins whose fathers are also twins. These are deliberately bizarre notions that we’ll be trying to render believable using all the artifices of cinema.”–Peter Greenaway on A Zed and Two Noughts
DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway
FEATURING: Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon, Andréa Ferréol, Frances Barber, Joss Ackland, Agnès Brulet
PLOT: The wives of two zoologist brothers are killed when a car driven by their friend Alba Bewick strikes a swan outside the zoo where they work. The grieving brothers question Alba, now missing a leg and bed-ridden, trying to find answers to the tragedy, while simultaneously documenting the decomposition of various animal corpses with time-lapse photography. Eventually both brothers fall for Alba, forming a strange menage a trois.
- This was Peter Greenaway’s second theatrical feature, after The Draughtsman’s Contract (1980’s The Falls was made for television). It was partially filmed at the Rotterdam Zoo.
- Zed was the first (of an eventual eight) of Greenaway’s collaborations with cinematographer Sacha Vierny. Vierny’s other projects included Last Year at Marienbad, Belle de Jour, and The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, making him arguably 366’s favorite cinematographer.
- In keeping with the alphabetic sub-theme, Greenaway and Vierny worked out twenty-six different ways to light a set.
- Painter Johannes Vermeer inspired the film’s look. The character named Van Hoyten is a reference to van Meegeren, the famous Vermeer forger.
- On its original American release A Zed and Two Noughts was sometimes screened alongside “Street of Crocodiles.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Peter Greenaway films each scene like a painting: static, with characters arranged in precise visual relationships, moving very little. That technique creates a multitude of memorable tableaux: two children dragging a dog past the enormous blue ZOO sign at the Rotterdam Zoo, Alba with her head sticking through the car windshield while a swan’s hindquarters decorate the hood, the twins flanking the legless woman in bed. For something with a bit of motion to it, you could pick one of the slightly nauseating time-lapse experiments, such as the decaying zebra corpse (which heaves as it is swollen with scurrying maggots, then deflates as they consume its guts). We decided on the image of the legless man standing erect on crutches, a character who suddenly shows up in the film for no other reason than to provide a masculine symmetry to maternal amputee Alba.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Accident on Swann’s way; sex for corpses; snail suicide sabotage
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Greenaway’s highly structured, artificial movies often come off as strange simply because of the complicated intellectual conceits behind them; but this tale of amputees, carcasses, and cages played out in the stylized zoo of his mind might be his weirdest, right down to its decaying bones.
Brief clip (opening) from A Zed and Two Noughts
COMMENTS: A Zed and Two Noughts begins with death and climaxes Continue reading 340. A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (1985)