15
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 81: BRAZIL

Do You SeePost a comment • 903 views

Martin Skidmore says:

I have ended up reviewing this after Lang’s Metropolis, arguably its spiritual grandfather, another film of workers revolting against a mad and repressive state. This is less controlled, original and masterly in many ways, but it is a colossally entertaining film, one of a relatively small number of movies that I always enjoy every time I see it.

Its greatness resides in its grotesques for me, in some outstandingly absurd performances by Jim Broadbent and Katherine Helmond and Ian Holm, even more than in Pryce and De Niro’s excellent starring roles. We don’t see too many such outrageously extreme characters in any films, let alone so many in one place, in a world that seems to be made for such monstrosities, that demands and could house nothing less. The whole thing makes little sense, but we don’t expect that from Terry Gilliam, we expect wild energy and wit, exuberant malice and visual flair. It has more ideas in these areas than it entirely knows what to do with, but there’s hardly a dull moment (even the Kafkaesque soul-mangling workplace is too oppressive and wilfully drear to be anything but hilarious). It’s really not very far at all from his Python animated sequences, and its logic is hardly more realistic in places. I think it shows a lot of influence from Gilliam’s pre-Python connection with the peerless cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, creator of Mad magazine – but that’s a separate article, maybe. I wish there were more people who made films like this.

Pete Baran says:

Well what would you call a film about an over-bureaucratic dystopian future where a man dreams to be free? Oh, 1984. Yes, I guess that makes sense.

Actually the working title for Brazil was 1984 and a Half, which would have been a nice if somewhat redundant nod to Fellini. 1985 – the year it was actually released – may have confused the source with the Anthony Burgess obv satire of capitalism with the same title. So Brazil it is, because Gilliam liked the tune (though its full name is actually “Aquarela do Brasil”), which is a good enough reason in a film so full of personal foibles.

So we get the penchant for people or things to burst in satisfied with De Niro’s Tuttle and the SWAT team. We get the Pythonesque deconstruction of the ordinary, and the grotesque make-up designs. And at the heart we have a sweet love story which is utterly destroyed by the caprice of the writer/director. I would love to see the fable Hollywood ending version: not to see if it was better but to see if it was as good. The reason the tragic fall away of this comedy is so strong is that the whole thing could equally have a happy ending; love could triumph over red tape.

What is intriguing about Brazil though, for all its visual flourish and messy plotting, is that it feels like a virulent satire. And yet there are many points where the satire is either too obvious (the cosmetic surgery) or too obscure (the terrorist heating engineer) to form a coherent whole. Nice touches such as the use of the phrase “information retrieval” for torture still do not lead the viewer any closer to Gilliam’s point, beyond the struggle for an individual to have an imagination. But perhaps that is why I go back to it so much. A mess, but a cinematic mess and certainly a better idea than another adaptation of 1984. Times change, ideas change. Perhaps they should not change so many times during a film, but that certainly makes it interesting.

(BTW The Blogger spellcheck’s suggestion for Gilliam is silliness.)

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