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Monday, May 21, 2007

BRAZIL (1985) - Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam once again brings his weird and absurd vision to the screen in his 1985 film, Brazil. Gilliam's warped vision of the future is of a society where bureaucracy has run amok. Everything requires paperwork, and even the simplest procedure is wrapped up in red tape. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a bureaucrat working in the Ministry of Information. It's a boring job of paperwork and procedure. There is nothing exciting for Lowry, except for trying to sneak in a movie under the nose of his weak and slightly dumb boss (Ian Holm). However, Lowry lives a second life, one in his dreams, where he is an armored super hero, complete with Icarus-like wings. He soars a beautiful and vibrant skyline, where he sees visions of a woman, whom he must free from imprisonment in a cage. One night, Lowry's air-conditioning breaks down. He calls Central Services, but due to a recent series of terrorist attacks, they are unable to see to him. On the scene arrives Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro), a renegade handy-man and anarchist to boot, who fixes Lowry's AC and disappears into the night. And in Lowry, a sense of adventure is born. He begins to see his woman in his dream in reality and sets about hunting down the mystery girl down.

Gilliam's films are always a visual feast, and none so more as here. His vision of the future is a cold, sanitized retro-futuristic mix. Every image and scene is rich in detail, and although this is my first viewing, I will definitely be checking it out again, as I'm sure I missed plenty following the plot. What's remarkable about the film is how prophetic it is, and how much of the themes in Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown's screenplay resonate today. The government is obsessed with knowing everything about everyone. Privacy is almost non-existent. When someone is arrested, they have a sack placed over their heads and are locked up indefinitely without trial. Sound familiar? This leads to an underground movement of terrorists determined to free the people. But the film is about Lowry, so these details serve the film rather than being the entire focus of the story.

Jonathan Pryce plays Lowry as a meek, almost cowardly character. He turns down promotion and is quite happy to live a quiet, anonymous existence. It's only his obsession that drives him to become proactive. The cast is peppered by familiar faces, including Holm, Michael Palin and Jim Broadbent. However, Robert DeNiro's cameo as Harry Tuttle is the standout in the crowd. His manic anarchist handyman is a kind of paranoid James Bond, turning up, getting the job done, and disappearing without thanks or payment. It's great to see a comedic DeNiro role that doesn't leave you rolling your eyes.
Gilliam's film, is as always, incredibly beautiful. I can understand some not really taking to his 1984-esque vision of things to come. However, the film is quite accessible (unlike the recently released Tideland) and holds plenty for those willing to give it a shot.


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