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A Zed & Two Noughts (1986)

Film by Peter Greenaway
Music by Michael Nyman
Sound by C. Ware

In cooperation with Babylon

“Cinema documents death at work”, striving for a quotation, so began a film journalist his article on A Zed and Two Noughts. However, a critic has never been more wrong than in this case. Since, in A Zed and Two Noughts, the work first begins, and not only that of the director, but also of the twin zoologist protagonists, once the Grim Reaper's work is already done: Again and again in A Zed and Two Noughts the decomposition process is shown in time-lapse sequences. These videos are recorded in a self-installed test laboratory in a zoo, where Oliver and Oswald dedicate themselves to the study of decay after the death of their wives. An apple that has been bitten into, a dead fish, a dead crocodile, a dead dog, a dead swan, a dead zebra lie under the spotlight, before the camera. “Click!”, “click!”, “click!”, meanwhile we witness Oswald and Oliver make a move on Alba Bewick, who lost a leg and her unborn child in an accident. Yet, in Greenaway’s film, “in the land of the legless, the one-legged woman is Queen” – plain straightforwardness in not in Greenaway’s nature.

Oswald and Oliver father a, naturally: two child(ren) with her, dream of starting a family and of new happiness. A Zed and Two Noughts is not about death, but about the eternal cycle of becoming and decaying and it it fitting then that the two Os watch extracts from the BBC multipart documentary series The Beginning of Life over and over. Yet Greenaway would never narrate so straightforwardly. He blithely indulges in repeating the quote, in a postmodern manner. Plays with structures that overlap one another and that create secrets in this process of overlapping and graduation. The music, composed by Michael Nyman, behaves just as thematically, just as repetitively, developing from repetition, this cyclical “danse macabre”, reduplicative and reductive. The lively “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” represents the longing for a family and the “Time Lapse” theme highlights eternal transience.