Brazil

Year: 1985

Production: Brazil / 20th Century Fox / Universal

Director: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Peter Vaughan, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Kim Greist

Screenwriter: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

142 minutes. Color


The US print of Brazil was initially cut by Universal because it was too long and depressing, but, following a highly publicized squabble with Gilliam, Universal backed down when the film won three LA Film Critics Awards. Universal's commercial instincts, though condemned as philistine, were correct: the film is indeed self-indulgently long, and has never won mass acceptance, though gaining high cult status.

This black comedy pits a shy, romantic file clerk against a faceless, sinister, bureaucratic, all-powerful Ministry of Information in an imaginery present derived equally from George Orwell and Franz Kafka. Director Gilliam began his career as animation director of the classic tv series Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1971), and Brazil's great strength is its stunning visual appearance, both in the prolonged and surreal dream sequences (showing freedom and heroic action) and in the slightly more realistic city of the main action, where industrial-Victorian gloom (ducts and pneumatic tubes everywhere) overshadows the futuristic (paste meals). The performances are unusually good, especially Palin's yuppie torturer, but Pryce's one-note, hysterical performance is tiringly unattractive. The satire veers arbitrarily in its objects between the trivial and the horrible, plastic surgery and paper-shuffling on the one hand, night raids by screat police and state-endorsed murder on the other. The bitterness of the film's plea for (unreachable) freedom is partly lost in the intellectual kitsch of its designer dystopia. Gilliam's obsessive relationship to a cruelty he seems to regard as inescapable has always been ambiguous: he both fears and uses it, which here produces an involuntary but pervasive subtext of collaboration with the torturers.

Director Gilliam's latest sf movie is Twelve Monkeys (1995).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Sharing a similar vision of the near future as Nineteen Eighty-four (1984) , a future full of forties trappings, but shot through with a wicked surrealism that is missing from Michael Radford's film, Brazil is undoubtedly Gilliam's best movie to date. Pryce is the mother-dominated hapless clerk who takes refuge in adolescent fantasies in which he is part-Icarus, part-Siegfried and wholly the hero par excellence only to be dragged slowly but surely into the oppressive machinations of a shaky bureaucracy threatened by anarchists. Like Time Bandits (1981), full of nastiness and excremental humor, but far more organized, Brazil also benefits from a superb cast - Richardson's sleek bureaucrat, De Niro, the film's real superhero, Holm as the paranoid department chief, Palin's torturer and, best of all, Helmond as Pryce's beauty-conscious mother bent on holding back the ravages of time - and a restrained script from Gilliam, Stoppard and McKeown. More surprising is the wistful edge to the film, highlighted in the evocative title song, and the longing for a return to more innocent times that lies behind the, often vicious, surface of the film.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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