Terry Gilliam directs Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist and Katherine Helmond in this dystopian fantasy where a civil servant for a fascist regime risks his life and standing to connect with a dream girl whose neighbour his ministry may have incompetently tortured to death.
Brazil suffered at the hands of its American distributor. Infamously held in limbo by Paramount Pictures as they tried to edit it down to 90 minutes and take out lines and shots from the ending so the fantasy Sam Lowry escapes into was less obviously only in his fragile, tortured headspace. Gilliam paid for a full page advert in Variety asking when his movie would be released, bootleg VHS copies of the full length international cut started circulating around LA and the movie stuck in a hack’s editing suite started building up award buzz in its full fat form. So being both a bête noire AND a cause célèbre, Brazil had the reputation as the vision that survived, the battler, the outlier and instant classic of the Eighties. But it is overlong, the tone fluctuates wildly. It feels very much like a MTV promo that never ends, Monty Python’s Brave New Orwell and a hot mess prototype for Bob Hoskin’s hot mess Super Mario Bros movie. A real Kafka-esque pic’N’mix. For every glorious sequence of imaginative squalor and bureaucratic mega incompetence there is another that just plain ruins the gumbo. The middle feels directionless, Kim Griest’s studio imposed dream girl is a personality vacuum. Smaller roles by Michael Palin, Robert De Niro and Bob Hoskins lighten up the nightmare, there are some good laughs. Gilliam seems happiest getting lost in pointless ducts, wire and keypads rather than action, horror or drama. As visions of the future go, Brazil is analogue, with the guts on the outside and happy being the opposite of streamlined. Yet that defiant over-complication really weakened Brazil for me on this rewatch. Maybe somewhere between 90 and 135 minutes would have been a happy compromise?
Perfect Double Bill: 1984 (1984)
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