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BRAZIL (CRITERION)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jonathan Pryce, Robert DeNiro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Kim Greist
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  142 Minutes
Release Date:  September 5, 2006

"Sam...what ARE we going to do with you?"

Film ****

Brazil is about as unique a motion picture as you can experience. No other film quite has the look--a "retro future" look by setting it in the future, but creating the futuristic world with old and familiar items. Check out the computers, which have manual typewriter style keyboards and tiny 50's style television screens enlarged via magnifying glasses. No other film has quite the combination of comedy and nightmarish vision as this one has. Essentially, the film will make you laugh and fear at the same time.

The movie opens "somewhere in the 20th century" in an Orwellian world where machines and technology seem to have overtaken human significance. Our protagonist is Sam Lowery (a terrific Jonathan Pryce) who, like we the audience, seems out of place in this society. His Walter Mitty style dreams make him a winged, free hero, but even they become symbolic of his stifling world as he battles the forces that close in on him. His real world centers around a job at the Ministry of Information, basically an inquisition, but with proper British manners. Their job is to extract information from suspected terrorists, and they do this by...well, you'll find out. And to add insult to injury, persons being interrogated are charged for the information retrieval process ("If you don't confess soon, you'll ruin your credit rating").

It's difficult to sum up the plot of Brazil in a few sentences. It mainly revolves around Sam finding that the girl of his dream world is real, but learns she is a terrorist suspect. Does he do his job and bring her in? Or does he follow his heart, and is there any hope of reward in following one's heart in such a world? To give away more would be wrong, but the script is terrific, filled with great lines and Terry Gilliam's style of humor.

The real genius of the movie is not so much the story, but the frighteningly real world that Terry Gilliam has created. This is an ugly, joyless society, and we root for poor Sam to overcome it.

Terry Gilliam has never shied away from controversy in his career, and Brazil probably remains his most divisive work to this day.  For some, the film is a brutal assault; a pessimistic, sinking experience that just sucks all the life out of them.  For others, it's a work of magic, saying all the right things and hitting all the right notes.  It's a nightmare, but it's a comedy...it will shake you up, but let you laugh at the same time.

I fall squarely into the second camp.  I personally pick Brazil as the third greatest film of the 80s (for the curious, Do the Right Thing and Crimes and Misdemeanors are one and two).  It's the kind of movie that seriously stimulates your mind before blowing it away.  My first time seeing it was unforgettable.  And every time I watch it, I discover new things.  This is Terry Gilliam's masterpiece...a film that seems to grow and expand along with our very consciousness.

In the end, Brazil is always a film I recommend with equal amounts of enthusiasm and hesitation.  If you watch it and decide to write me a hate email as a result, I won't blame you.  But it's worth the chance that this picture might just connect with you the way it's done for so many in a growing but still select audience.  It's a unique vision and the kind of film that was extinct as soon as it was made...I can't imagine anyone duplicating what Gilliam accomplished.  Considering the battles he had to go through to have his vision protected from scissor-happy studio execs, I'm not sure many would even try.

There won't be much middle ground.  Brazil will either be an unpleasant, nerve-wracking experience for you or it will be one of the best movies you've ever seen.  That has to be worth the risk, isn't it?

Video ****

This is a stellar anamorphic transfer from Criterion...quite an improvement over Universalís disc.  The images are so sharp, crisp and clean, and the colors so bright and natural, I found myself noticing many details in the film Iíd never noticed before.  The film boasts the correct running length of 142 minutes, which is actually the same as the Universal disc, who had the incorrect running time printed on the box. 

Audio ***

The soundtrack is Dolby stereo, and itís a good, clean, dynamic mix that shows off Michael Kamenís terrific score.  No complaints!

Features **

I always enjoy listening to Terry Gilliam's commentaries, and he provides a good one for this director-approved Criterion edition.  He speaks generously of his memories of making the film and his struggles to get his vision seen.  There is also an essay by critic Jack Mathews, whose efforts helped get Gilliam's version of Brazil to the public.

Summary:

Brazil wonít please all audiences, nor was it intended to.  There are many movie lovers and critics alike who have never quite gotten into Terry Gilliamís bizarre vision of a darkly comic nightmare.  But for his true fans, and for those who love this movie as much as I do, there may never be a better way to experience it than this Criterion DVD.

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