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Review: Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Premise: Set in the near future, an employee of the government’s Ministry of Information is caught up with a fugitive and has his life turned upside down. 

What Works: In the film genre of dystopian futures, Brazil is one of the essential works. The film has fun with its premise and goes places that few films have, embracing the insanity and using film not just to parody or exaggerate elements of society, but to actually make a joke of our sense of reality. One of the key elements that elevates Brazil above other films of its type is the way it links how institutions structure our society to the way we perceive reality. The film establishes a sense of normal early on and then constantly disrupts it; the tension between what the characters espouse and what is actually going on becomes increasingly hostile and as the main character’s confidence in the establishment disintegrates, his entire sense of reality disintegrates with it. Brazil is also distinguished by its ironic sense of humor; the film includes a number of Monty Python alumni and although Brazil is not really a comedy, it has an intelligent and subversive sense of humor that is in keeping with films like Life of Brian.

What Doesn’t: Brazil is not really a coherent film and although that is the point, it will be frustrating for viewers who cannot step back to see the film for the inside joke that it ultimately is.

DVD extras: There are several versions of Brazil including a 146 minute director’s cut, and a 94 minute commercial-friendly version. Although the director’s cut is long winded, it is the definitive version of Terry Gilliam’s intentions. The shorter version, although tighter in places, loses the satirical tone of the film and rarely makes any sense. The three-disc Criterion Collection edition of Brazil includes both the director’s cut and the commercial version as well as featurettes on the making of the film.

Bottom Line: Brazil is an important piece of cinema. Although it is flawed, the picture’s influence can be seen in later films like The Matrix, Synecdoche, New York, and Minority Report.

Episode: #282 (March 28, 2010)