Monday, January 17, 2011

Brazil - A film for the times

Film review by Noel -

          Brazil follows Sam Lowry, a desperate, petulant everyman working in his nation’s public sector. Sam’s life is at a dead end; he works in the Department of Records, thinking for his boss, a most paranoid and aged bureaucrat. At night he dreams of soaring through the skies with his blonde haired, blue eyed lady love, the only escape he has from the daily drudgery. Sam possesses no ambition, a fact stated by his mother, an aging socialite, as instrumental in her decision to arrange a promotion. He at first turns it down, but when he discovers that his dream love actually exists he wakes from his lethargy, taking the promotion with the intention of using the power it affords him to find her.
           Brazil is a masterpiece; a comedy that at once entertains and, in ways both obvious and subtle, moves us to thought. The world in which Sam Lowry lives is stifling and oppressive, mistrust and suspicion being encouraged by the powers that be in guarding against an undefined enemy. Posters and slogans encouraging this are to be found everywhere, drawing from both soviet propaganda and 1984, a book which Terry Gilliam, one of Brazil’s writers, its director and a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, intimates to be a heavy influence on the film. Said powers and their agents are made to seem buffoonish and idiotic, but with every chuckle at their actions comes the thought that these people are in charge of this world and their actions, silly as they might seem, impact all of its inhabitants in far reaching ways. Sam does not even appear onscreen until late in the tenth minute of the film, the previous time being used to make clear the exact nature of his society. In them, a mistake is made in a central ministry that causes a man to be bagged and hauled out of his home in the dead of night, his family being left with nothing but a shattered home and a receipt for his arrest.
          Jonathan Pryce is brilliant in the lead role and Kim Greist shines as Jill Layton, ephemeral and seductive in Sam’s dreams and tough-as-nails in reality. They are backed by a cast that performs to perfection; from Robert De Niro in a memorable supporting role as a terrorist heating engineer (no, I’m not making that up), to Katherine Helmond as Sam’s irrepressible mother and Jim Broadbent as Dr. Jaffe, a smarmy plastic surgeon catering to the social elite. The world they inhabit is grey and tired, filled with crushing architecture, charred landscapes and ducts. Yes, ducts. These ducts are everywhere, running in a literal sense, throughout their society. As the logo of the Ministry of Information has arachnid overtones and these ducts are everywhere, one wonders at their real purpose. The only real colour comes from Sam’s dreams and the numerous posters, as well as his mother’s hair, dyed a startling shade of red. The entire production feels futuristic and yet dated, with hi-tech computers possessing typewriting keyboards and miniscule screens equipped with mirrors. Every layer of their society is designed to appear as comic as possible, without slipping into heavy parody.
          All of that, combined with a plot that meanders between reality and Sam’s dreams can be a bit confusing to follow, but this also is felt to be intended. Sam’s decision to accept the promotion is followed by one rash decision after another, as he tries to grab and hold onto happiness. It is telling that his quest for happiness brings him into direct opposition with the aims and policies of his society and nation. That is the brilliance inherent in Brazil; it is at once a hilarious comedy bordering on slapstick and a film that, on several layers, serves up extensive food for thought. Consider a world wherein a man is forced to give up his dreams to fit, where expressing dissent gets you labelled as a terrorist, where the rich and the poor lead markedly different but no more fulfilling lives, where the citizenry are treated as the property of the state, to be dealt with as they please, where working outside of the system affords you more space for good than within it and where ducts are to be found running everywhere. Well, maybe not the ducts. It is in the hilarious yet deadly serious presentation of these matters for our consideration, which Brazil shines. I highly recommend it. 4 stars out of 5.


Brazil - Directors Cut (1985)
Running Time - 142 minutes
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written By Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles Mckeown
Starring: Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry, Kim Greist as Jill Layton, Robert De Niro as Archibald "Harry" Tuttle, Jim Broadbent as Dr. Jaffe , Michael Palin as Jack Lint and Katherine Helmond as Mrs. Ida Lowry.

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