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  Brazil Nightmare State
Year: 1985
Director: Terry Gilliam
Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown, Derrick O'Connor, Katherine Pogson, Bryan Pringle, Simon Jones
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: Somewhere in the 20th Century, a bureaucrat is working away in his office, registering the citizens who need to be monitored by the Department of Information Retrieval, when he is bothered by a fly. In his endeavours to swat it, he inadvertently causes the insect to drop into the printer, which accidentally changes one of the names on the list to Buttle instead of Tuttle; he doesn't notice it, and nobody will notice the mistake anyway. Not until it's too late, that is, and as Christmas approaches one Archibald Buttle and his family are paid a visit not by Santa Claus but by secret police troops who spirit him away...

Brazil may be, for many of his fans, director Terry Gilliam's masterpiece, but its final cut was the subject of much dispute art the time, with the creator wrestling with the studio who disliked its bleakness intensely, and had prepared their own "happy" version which they planned to release instead. Once Gilliam's approved cut was leaked to great acclaim, it embarrassed the studio into finally putting it out as intended, but even then it was not much of a hit no matter the reaction from some quarters that it was one of the films of the year. Thus, as is the way with these things, Brazil became a cult movie, and part of that was down to the way that if you were attuned to the peculiar mood of the piece you would likely be blown away by the end.

Indeed, that last fifteen minutes are among the most brilliant of any movie released in the eighties, but the two hours or so leading up to them are part of why they have such impact. Although he had never read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gilliam's work here was practically a spoof, and arriving so quickly on the heels of a far more serious adaptation from mere months before could not have done it any favours, especially as the Michael Radford effort hadn't exactly been a blockbuster either. Yet while that earlier film had been excellent, by divining the humour in the story which few would have even guessed at, Brazil went one better, and its beautifully sinister design, impeccably realised and with the great Roger Pratt on cinematography duties, would be both influential and never really bettered.

Our Winston Smith was Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce as a man who uses his elaborate dream life to escape from the suffocating world around him. Actually, unlike Winston Sam could have more privileges than he does as he's the son of a powerful couple, with his widowed, plastic surgery-obsessed mother (Katherine Helmond) keen to pull strings to allow her son higher positions in the all-controlling Ministry. He doesn't want that, he wants to prove himself on his own, but at what? Everything about this world is bound to make anyone who has idealistic fantasies of the better place it could be ground down into mediocrity, assuming they don't get mangled in the cogs of the authorities' machine, which makes Lowry's reveries of playing the part of a knight in shining armour all the more bittersweet.

And more than that, the reason he ends up as he does, taking the woman he loves with him - but not in a good way. The complex connection between Lowry's dreams and his reality are what scuppers his chances, as if he could understand what would make his life worth living - someone to fall in love with, basically - yet that is what causes disaster, rendered all the more tragic in that nobody will really care in the long run, and the short run is wanting for compassion too. Sam has to give Mrs Buttle her cheque as compensation for her husband's accidental execution, and when he reaches her apartment he catches sight of her neighbour, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), who just happens to be the double of the woman Sam has been saving in his dreams.

His pursuit of happiness proves his undoing as the nightmare society of rules and regulations run wild (yet conservatively wild) closes in on one man dissatisfied with his lot and crazily trying to beat the system, but not like the terrorists who plague the land. The authorities aren't even evil people, simply too tied to the hellish status quo to let go of it, from the engineers who mess up Sam's flat all the way up to the barely competent, weirdly benign family friend Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), who probably isn't the head of the government, simply carrying out the orders which nobody has stopped to question. The cast of Brits knew all too well how to play this, with exquisitely realised scenes from some excellent actors: to add to the strangeness, Robert De Niro as a maverick heating engineer and Michael Palin superbly menacing as Sam's "friend". But the full horror of Sam's predicament, and the one he gets the spiky Jill into, becomes more apparent as the laughter turns to gallows humour, leading to that stunning finale with its achingly sad punchline. A masterpiece? Yeah, it probably is. Variations on Brazil, the song, make up Michael Kamen's soundtrack.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Terry Gilliam  (1940 - )

Endlessly imaginative American director and animator who gained fame as one of the Monty Python team. He co-directed the Pythons' films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian and Monty Python's Meaning of Life, but also helmed his own projects, starting with Jabberwocky and Time Bandits.

The brilliant Brazil was beset with production problems, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was nearly a complete disaster. After that, Gilliam directed other people's stories: The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm. 2006's controversial Tideland returned Gilliam to independent filmmaking, while his failed attempt to bring Don Quixote to the screen was documented in the painful Lost in La Mancha.

His next, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, survived the death of its lead actor, and The Zero Theorem was a melancholy sci-fi which proved he could work quickly and efficiently after all. He finally succeeded with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2018.

 
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