Film (1985). Brazil/Twentieth Century Fox/Universal. Directed Terry Gilliam. Written by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown. Cast includes Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Jonathan Pryce and Peter Vaughan. 142 minutes. Colour.
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 imaginary present derived equally from George Orwell and Franz Kafka. Director Gilliam began his career as animation director of the classic television series Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1974), 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 secret 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. [PN]
see also: BSFA Award; Seiun Award.
Previous versions of this entry