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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Brazil (1985)



Reviews and Comments

Terry Gilliam's uneven but inspired Brazil is a crazy, often hilarious satire of bureaucracy. It's set in a futuristic world in which government branches and the people who run them wholeheartedly pursue goals of questionable use. "Information Retrieval," for example, collects information but does not dispense it or act on it. This is a world where a notorious rogue is a wanted man because he fixes people's plumbing without authorization. This is a world where a man tries to correct an administrative error but, because in a system that does not allow for errors it is illegal to fix them, he becomes a fugitive from justice.

The film is a bizarre ride in which there is creative energy bursting around every corner. The beauty is in the details, so to speak. Gilliam's direction is every bit as unconventional as his world; surreal cinematography and hilariously exaggerated expressionistic sets complement the action nicely. There is also a rare form of humor that surfaces now and again: besides the more obvious satire of modern society, there is straight-faced slapstick as well. Most slapstick feels self-aware, even when the characters are not. The humor in Brazil is by contrast sincere and often unexpected, which is jarring at first but pays off for those viewers who figure out its groove.

The weakest part of the film is the love story, which is mostly a mere subplot except that it provides the main character Sam Lowry with his motivation. Ironically, in such a zany world, it is this simple love story element that is the most unbelievable. Sam's crush doesn't quite feel authentic, and the object of his affection never once feels like a real character. We are never able to get inside her head, and our guesses as to what she will do or think always seem to turn out wrong. Odd that Terry Gilliam would be able to make the surreal feel more real than the real does.