Brazil (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a lowly functionary overtly content with his anonymous existence, except that he repeatedly dreams about a particular woman, discovers a living woman who resembles the girl of his dreams. When he sets out to find and woo her, he becomes involved in various intrigues set in motion by the efforts of several high ranking government officials to keep secret their killing of a man arrested, and subsequently tortured, after he was mistakenly identified as a freelance duct repairman.

Terry Gilliam's Brazil is a fascinating, horrifying, and funny portrayal of a world of bureaucrats, revolutionaries, and dreamers that is, sadly, not as unlike our own as we might wish it were.

As dire and depressing as the director's vision sometimes is, it never fails to captivate the viewer, especially since it has been brought to life with a number of genuinely peculiar and imaginative images. In fact, Brazil is a consistently entrancing visual spectacle. The film's bizarre computers, outlandish uniforms, monstrous, omnipresent ducts, pastel mashed haute cuisine, portable houses, miniature cars, fascistic architecture, and so on all contribute to its whimsical quirkiness and give it a mesmerizing and distinctive look quite unlike anything to be found in the works of any other director.

The society depicted in the film, ruled by a vast, ridiculously inefficient bureaucracy and dominated by meaningless rules, superficiality, consumerism, and fear of terrorists, is likewise delightfully and inventively realized. The host of quizzical nuances and comic details with which the director has filled his imaginary world infuse even his presentations of the frequently nasty consequences of oppression and dehumanization with a clever, incisive humor. Gilliam, consequently, allows the viewer to laugh at the absurdity and pettiness of his bureaucrats and socialites and in defiance of their cruelty and stupidity

Brazil's greatest problem, and it is one shared with most of the director's other works, is its interminable conclusion. Gilliam insists on bringing the film to an end and then not ending it, but, instead, reinterpreting that ending with a second ending. He does the same with this ending and continues to do so until any dramatic impact such an approach might have had is completely evaporated into tedium.

Despite its amorphous last act, the film is effective in arousing complex, conflicting emotions. By showing the stifling of a man's dreams so that he is unable to fulfill those dreams outside of his imagination, Brazil evokes a disturbing sense of horror, but, at the same time, by lauding the imagination and showing the joys of one's own internal world, the film manages to evoke hope as well. The viewer despairs, and yet he finds that there is something hopeful even in that despair. Such ambivalent feelings actually manage to create a sense of peacefulness, contentment, and acceptance. Even if the world around us suffocates us, we are free within to dream.

The film's faults do detract from its quality, but Brazil remains an imaginative, engaging, and stirring movie. Gilliam's satire on modern bureaucracy is consistently incisive and consequently funny. By showing us Sam's dreams, and the constraints society places upon his ability to fulfill those dreams, Gilliam successfully manages to evoke hope and despair and allows us to laugh at both.

Review by Keith Allen

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