Blatantly laying bare Greenaway’s deep-dish kink concerning our corporeality onto the silver screen, A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (automatically can be conflated into ZOO), his third feature, is a grand execution on cinematic symmetry, characterized by his undue fascination about dismemberment and decay, but squeamish ones shouldn’t be disquieted, since Mr. Greenaway knows fairly well how to configure his final output.
Two zoologists, Oswald and Oliver Deuce (Brian Deacon and his younger brother Eric Deacon) have lost their wives in an automobile accident caused by a mute swan, the preggie woman behind the wheel, Alba Bewick (a sultry, maternal Ferréol, bed-ridden for the most of the screen time) however, survives but lost her baby and a leg.
Oddly, Oswald and Oliver channel their inconsolable grief into a waxing obsession with the decay of life forms and simultaneously seek intimacy with a dismembered but fertile Alba. Scaling up the food chain, soon the film will be laden with time-lapse sequences of decomposition (from an apple, a bowl of prawns, a pair of fish, a crocodile, a zebra to the specimen of the highest echelon). Meanwhile, sundry wacky peripheral characters mill around to introduce a semblance of a plot development, Frances Barber relishes in dishabille as the indecipherable Venus de Milo, who will eventually maunder into an offscreen demise under a zebra’s hooves; some has his own ulterior motive, like doctor van Meegeren (Thoolen), a Vermeer counterfeiter who is particularly keen in severing off Alba’s remaining, lonesome leg as well.
First and foremost, A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS turns heads as a queer study on symmetric composition against a vivid palette and artisanal settings (marking the first collaboration between Greenaway and his long-time DP. Sacha Vierny), tallying with the revelation that Oswald and Oliver are identical twins (whose discrete appearances conspicuously begin to merge into two conjoined twins as their folie à deux deepens), their peculiar ménage-à-trois with Alba flouts any moral/psychological confinement and the trio sustains a whiff of bewitching chemistry, a tacit equilibrium refreshingly overrules the wanton exploitation of carnality, not least by watching Sir David Attenborough’s LIFE ON EARTH TV series together in bed.
Another great pleasure inducer is Michael Nyman’s seminal score, not dissimilar to his centerpiece in Greenaway’s later theatrical triptych THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989), here his refrains are fruity, affective and contagiously uplifting, counterpoises the film’s morbid, quizzical outlook on mortality, evolution (with an inexplicable gap hindering its justification) and perverse self-involvement.
Infested by snails, ultimately and silently the bodies of Deuce brothers contest the ontology of our species, and albeit scratching only the surface of an interest in human’s meta-existence, Greenaway’s taboo-provoking idiosyncrasy and striking idiom as a visual scenester are too cordial to overlook.
referential entries: Greenaway’s THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT (1982, 7.2/10), THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989, 7.5/10).