A brilliant film by Peter Greenaway. The score is by Michael Nyman, with quotations from Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Strings.
Those who have seen his work would agree that it is hard to describe any film by Greenaway. Notably, he himself has elaborated upon most of his work, either in interviews or in print. Quotations in this WU are taken from Greenaway’s book Fear of Drowning by Numbers.
A synopsis would be difficult, and irrelevant, here: the film is about drowning, counting, and games. The film opens with a girl illuminated by a rotating beacon. She recites the names of the 100 brightest visible stars, counting them off as she skips rope. After that prologue, numbers begin to be made present in the film. Nearly every shot will include, either visually or as dialog, another number from 1 to 100, mostly in order.
Our friend Kallen writes “Drowning by Numbers is by far the most abstract narrative presented by Peter Greenaway.” Personally, I find the incrementation in this film creates a very compelling linear structure. Greenaway writes,
Counting is the most simple and primitive of narratives – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -- a tale with a beginning, a middle, an end, and a sense of progression -- arriving at a finish – a goal is attained, a dénouement reached.
Greenaway summarizes the film, while leaving out much of the conglomerate story,
Drowning by Numbers is a story of three women who murder their husbands -- one in a bath, one in the sea, and one in a swimming pool. It is a black and ironic fairy-tale for adults, half invented by children who are innocently obsessed with sex and death -- especially death. It is a poetic, amoral tale told morally to support the belief that the good are seldom rewarded, the bad go largely unpunished and the innocent are always abused.