I first encountered Terry Gilliam’s best film (to date), Brazil, during a GCSE English class when we were tasked with writing a short sci-fi story and since then it’s consistently sat very high on my favourite movies list (so thanks for introducing me to it Mr. Gregson).
I’ve revisited the film relatively regularly ever since, first on video then the fantastic Criterion Collection DVD edition and now on Blu-ray for the first time.
The HD transfer of the film itself is fantastic and it felt almost like coming to the film again for the first time as background detail that would have been clear in a large cinema is at last clear on my home TV.
Onto the film itself and, as with all Gilliam’s work, the thing that strikes from the start is the precise sense of design as we are plunged into “Somewhere in the 20th Century” where bureaucracy has taken over government and life in a 1984-lite society with monolithic, grey Ministry architecture standing alongside slum like flatblocks with men in sharp grey suits rubbing shoulders with families looking like they’re from a stereotypical post-war working class but all with hints of the almost steampunkishly modern with computers and technology.
While some of Gilliam’s films are rightly criticised for seeming to focus on design rather than the script, with Brazil the script and design lock together excellently from the first line “Hi there, I want to talk to you about ducts…”.
This sums up the tone and feel of the film to come as it marries the sense of the absurd with which Gilliam made his name doing animations for Monty Python with the notion of the world which we are thrown into that borrows from 1984 but feels almost more relevant even than Orwell’s still excellent book.
Alongside the bureaucracy the film’s satirical eye is aimed at some other staples of 80s life including cosmetic surgery and terrorism all of which combine to make something that is certainly just as relevant today as it was when the film was written in the early 80s.
If all that sounds a bit like its dealing with big societal issues the thing that makes the film work so much for me is that it combines this with a story of a man fighting the system, something I have always felt strongly about.
This aspect is the story of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) and he really delivers a tour de force performance as he is in virtually every scene following the prologue and we watch his journey from frustrated junior clerk to executive to… well that would be telling.
Along the way he meets a range of characters who seem to swirl about him with almost constant movement leaving both Sam, and us, dazed and confused and as the film goes on this increases but, rather than doing it in a way that ends up with the film being a mess, it all builds to a suitable final crescendo.
As well as Sam’s real life we also delve into his dream world which is again a triumph of the films design and special effects aspect as he appears as a winged hero in shiny armour fighting the evil creatures who have his true love caged.
As the film goes on, these two sides of Sam get closer and closer as we head toward the aforementioned climax.
Ok, so this may not be my most impartial review, but, on rewatching Brazil tonight, I could not find a single flaw in it. I’m sure some may think it looks a bit dated now and I am aware Terry Gilliam’s style may not be to all tastes, but for me, this is one of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid and I would heartily recommend it to anyone – just be prepared for something a little outside of the ordinary.