Director: Terry Gilliam
I am finding it really difficult to actually form a review about Brazil which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film (all 7 times I have watched it in the last 6 months in order to try to write this post!!) I just can’t really work out how to put what I want to say into words. I think part of this stems from the fact that Kim Newman wrote a really good piece on it in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I agree with most of his points. In fact so much so that I can’t think of a better way to put it then he does. So below are the points I connect with the most from Newman.
“Made significantly in 1984, and in parallel with the Michael Radford film of George Orwell’s eponymous novel, Brazil is set “somewhere in the twentieth century,” in an imaginary but credible oppressive state that combines the worst features of 1940s British bureaucracy, 1950s American paranoia, Stalinist or fascist totalitarianism, and the ills of the 1980s (such as an obsession with plastic surgery).” (Kim Newman, 712-713, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) So it is very much a backward looking film despite being set in the future – a common theme in dystopian narratives. The color palette reflects the dystopic nature of the film with everything being very washed out, uniform and grey with the exception of Sam’s mother, Ida, and her friends lifestyle which is the complete opposite and embraces all of the technicolor excess of the 1980s.
“Whereas Orwell’s Airstrip one is built on an impossibly and horribly effective system of state surveillance, the worst aspect of Gilliam’s invented dystopia is that it doesn’t even work. The plot is kicked off by a farcical mistake as a squashed bug falls into a printer so that an arrest warrant intended for terrorist heating engineer Tuttle (Robert De Niro) is applied to an innocent Mr Buttle (Brian Miller), and the grimly utilitarian city is falling apart even without the possibly state-sponsored terrorist bombs that periodically wreak appalling carnage.” (712-713) The cast is made up of numerous notable actors with Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin (a Monty Python alum) and Jonathan Pryce as the protagonist, Sam Lowry.
“Sam enjoys romantic flights of imagination (scored with the Latin-flavored title tune) in which he is an angelic superhero knight facing up to Gilliamesque creations […] in order to rescue a dream girl (Kim Greist), one whose waking-life doppelgänger is a truck driver intent on shaking things up to redress the wrongs done to the Buttle and his family.” (712-713) There seems to be a recurring theme in Gilliam’s work – one where a dream or a fantasy world exists side by side with reality (like in The Brothers Grimm, 2005, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009, and to some extent Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, 1998) And Brazil certainly fits into that theme. The main thrust of Brazil is Sam’s increasingly frantic attempts to escape the grey drudgery of normality for the brightly colored dream world and his dream girl. Sounds simple enough although along the way these two worlds have a habit of merging resulting in the fantastical, if creepy, elements transporting themselves into the mediocre paperwork obsessed world Sam currently inhabits.
“The gruesome black humor and bizarre visuals (embodied by Katherine Helmond as a surgery obsessed matron with a succession of shoe-shaped hats) exist alongside a credible – and horribly fact-based – depiction of a regime that charges its victims for the electricity and labor that goes into their own torture, as represented by the family man specialist from “Information Retrieval” (Michael Palin) and the desperate, middle-management paper-shuffler (Ian Holm).” (712-713)
Apologies for such a mediocre review but I really struggled with this one. Hopefully it won’t put any of you off watching Brazil if you haven’t seen it before because it really is a film worth watching. I would suggest going into it with an open mind and just letting the film take you where it will. It’s an unusual one but then would you expect anything less of Terry Gilliam?