A Zed &
Two Noughts (1985)
Death is presented in the movie as horrid and beautiful and as sorrowful and comic. The efforts of Oswald and Oliver to procure the corpses of animals for their hideously lovely films are, for example, frequently shown in an overtly humorous manner. Their machinations parody the conventions with which plots and intrigues are presented in cinema, and the reactions of the owner of the zoo from which the animals are being taken are depicted in a clever, winking manner clearly intended to amuse. Such comic touches remind the viewer of the complexity of human beings' reactions to death and help to elicit many of the diverse feelings with which men confront the end of life. They also serve to suggest to the viewer the absurdity of those reactions and the strangeness of much of our existence.
In fact, a substantial part of the film focuses on depictions or relations of the peculiar or quirky. Characters tell one another odd stories. Strange images are shown. Various bizarre incidents transpire. Persons hold eccentric, often humorous conversations, and so on. What is more, Greenaway presents these absurdities in such a way that the viewer is able to appreciate their beauty as strange things. The ridiculousness of existence is brought to our attention so that, despite its terribleness, we are made to laugh.
Such qualities do not, however, exhaust the list of the film's virtues. The actors, for instance, universally acquit themselves well. While some portray overtly ludicrous characters and others provide a sense of dignity, all, either directly, implicitly, or by contrast, contribute to the film's overall sense of strangeness and, consequently, enhance the movie's aesthetic impact.
Greenaway is able to evoke a potent sense of tragedy with his film, but he mingles that sense with so much humor that the viewer is made to experience, simultaneously, both delight and sadness. A Zed & Two Noughts is, as a result, a peculiar, delicious, and beautiful movie.
Review by Keith Allen
Allen. All rights reserved.