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Oswald Deuce (Brian Deacon) and his twin brother Olivier (Eric Deacon) are biologists who work at the same zoo and have an interest in the process of decay. When their wives are killed in the same car crash, Oswald and Olivier become involved with Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferréol), who was driving the car and has had one of her legs amputated by surgeon Van Meegeren (Gerard Thoolen). As they continue to catalogue animal decomposition, the once-siamese twins ask van Meegeren to rejoin them.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Are we sitting comfortably? Good, then lets begin with the audio commentary on Peter Greenaway's idiosyncratic and altogether dazzling concoction of cinematic games and cultural cross-references. Everyone who was intrigued or even outright baffled by the multiple layers of meaning in A Zed And Two Noughts will have all their questions answered in the course of Greenaway's commentary.

A supreme intellect and an engaging conversationalist, Greenaway's analysis of his work and its myriad influences ranks among the best director's commentary tracks I've ever heard. In 112 extremely informative minutes, he touches on subjects as diverse as the Dutch Golden Age of painting (circa 1590-1670) and his particular interest in the works of Vermeer, architecture at Rotterdam zoo, Darwinism, gardens of Eden, the influence of pioneering animal and human form documentary filmmaker Edward Mybridge and even includes a detailed explanation of the typography used for the film's titles - in this case a post-Bauhaus font used by Penguin books he read as a child.

Barely stopping for breath along the way, Greenaway gives us a stunning lecture and a fascinating insight into the schematics of a mind obsessed with symmetry, duality, numbers, lists, alphabets and self-reflexivity. For all its textual and sub-textual richness, A Zed And Two Noughts ranks just below Greenaways greatest works (The Draughtsman's Contract for many; The Falls or Prospero's Books for others) and is indeed described by him as 'an imperfect child' and 'the film I would most like to remake'. While Sacha Vierny's astounding photography and the production design of Ben Van Os and Jan Roelfs cannot be faulted, the film is slightly deficient on a human level. With the notable exception of Andrea Ferréol's highly charged essaying of amputee Alba, most of the characters here are rather too coldly and clinically drawn.

In attempting to fill his frame with a dense catalogue of references and in-jokes (it is a very funny film at times) Greenaway ends up moving personnel around more like pieces on a puzzle board than things of flesh and blood. This particularly diminishes the impact of secondary characters like owl-keeper Van Hoyten (Joss Ackland) and seamstress/prostitute Venus De Milo (Frances Barber), whose assignments are intellectually stimulating but don't engage the emotions as they might. Despite its imperfections, Greenaway's film is still something to behold and we're never less than intrigued to discover the next twist in the bizarre relationship between the twins and Alba. The word 'auteur' is used far too frequently, but it is the only proper and correct term to describe Greenaway, whose eccentricities and intellectual and aesthetic concerns have given cinema some of its most arresting and invigorating imagery in the past quarter century.

The crisp 1.85:1 transfer looks beautiful and Michael Nyman's superb score (it's the crowning achievement of his 10 year collaboration with Greenaway) sounds superb in two-channel stereo. Extras include a precise introduction to the film by Greenaway and excepts from Philip Hoffman's making-of documentary ?0, zoo! The seven minutes consists of behind the scenes footage, the highlight of which is animal wrangling at Rotterdam zoo. The sub-Tangerine Dream euro-synth soundtrack by Tucker Zimmerman is pure cheese. There are also many hidden delights on the extra features main menu, including raw 16mm footage of the plant and animal time-lapse sequences punctuating the drama, storyboards and a press kit. All up, this is indispensable for Greenaway buffs and the excellent extras make it an ideal choice for newcomers to discover his brilliant talent.

Published September 23, 2004

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(UK/Netherlands, 1985)

CAST: Andréa Ferréol, Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon, Frances Barber, Joss Ackland

DIRECTOR: Peter Greenaway

SCRIPT: Peter Greenaway

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 2.0; Language: English. Subtitles: Dutch, French, English

SPECIAL FEATURES: Filmed Introduction by Peter Greenaway; Audio Commentary by Peter Greenaway, Extracts from the making-of film ?0, zoo! (1985, Dir Philip Hoffman), Storyboards, Press Kit, Original 16mm time lapse decay footage, Trailers for A Zed and Two Noughts and The Draughtsman's Contract


DVD RELEASE: June 23, 2004

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