A Zed & Two Noughts

Movie Information

In Brief: Almost exactly four years ago the AFS ran Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991). The showing started out with nearly 80 people. By the end, it was down to about 20 brave souls. I don't know if it was the fact that it's hard to follow, the fact that it boasts what the MPAA termed "pervasive nudity" or the fact that it's ... unusual, but to say that the audience didn't care for it is charitable. Well, it's time to give Mr. Greenaway another go. His dark comedy about death, mutilation and decay, A Zed & Two Noughts is still unusual, still pretty pervasive in the nudity department (Greenaway likes taking off actors' clothes — and they don't have to be people you'd like to see naked), but it is — I think — a more accessible film. The strange story — involving twin zoologists (Brian and Eric Deacon) who become obsessed with decay when their wives are killed in a car crash with a swan — is straightforward enough, as is their growing relationship with the crash's one survivor (Andréa Ferréol). The execution — and the plethora of strange embellishments and stranger characters — is another. One critic described Greenaway's films as "unpackable puzzle boxes," and that's a fair statement. So give this one a try. Maybe I should make it in the nature of a dare. Or perhaps I should just assure you that you won't see anything like it all year — maybe longer.
Genre: Black Comedy Art Film
Director: Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover)
Starring: Andréa Ferréol, Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon, Frances Barber, Joss Ackland, Jim Davidson
Rated: R



Though he’s still working (his most recent film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, is supposed to come out this year through Strand Releasing), it’s fair to say that Peter Greenaway has largely fallen into obscurity. He reached his peak of acceptance when The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover became a crossover hit in 1989, which in turn generared a brief-lived interest in his other works — and a love-hate relationship with the critics. That relationship soon soured to something like hate-indiffrence as his work became more and more impenetrable (the ending of his 1993 film The Baby of Mâcon is utterly incomprehensible without Greenaway explaining what it means). He regained some ground with The Pillow Book (1996), but lost it with 8 1/2 Women (2000). (I remember the poster in the lobby of the Fine Arts locally, but I don’t recall the film ever playing.) His stated intent — to return spectacle to the movies — suggests some kind of C.B. DeMille for the art house. Fine. That also means Greenaway is the very quintessence of “Not for All Tastes.”




My own relationship with Greenaway’s films blows hot and cold — and there are no Greenaway movies I’d want to see too often. But I do think he’s a filmmaker of some note — and one who should be better remembered than he is. His films are difficult. His obsessions are downright peculiar. His sense of humor — and, oh, yes, Greenaway has one — is very dark indeed. He finds humor in the grotesque — a lot of the humor in A Zed & Two Noughts centers on amputations and decay. The film itself can be viewed as an examination of futility. It — like its maker — is stange and unique. At its best, it’s a stylish black comedy — with a fondness for the absurd — made for adults. This is a film where motives are often inexplicable. Maybe the film is inexplicable, too, but it has an elegance and a playfulness that is hard to ignore — assuming you can tap into its vibe. It really can’t be explained. It has to be experienced — as does its Michael Nyman score.

The Asheville Film Society will screen A Zed & Two Noughts Tuesday, June 23, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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