on 5 November 2013
If, like me, you're a big fan of Terry Gilliams' Brazil then do yourself a favour and avoid the UK Blu ray editions of this magnificent film and pick up the US Criterion version. It is, head and shoulders, the best edition out there at this time.
I like to think of Brazil as Terry Gilliams' take on George Orwells' 1984. Certainly more humorous than the magnificently bleak 1984 it is a definite study of the insanity of bureaucracy and totalitarian states. Boasting incredible production design, beautiful sets, a great cast including De Niro and Ian Holm and a quite wonderful score from Michael Kamen, Brazil is a modern(ish) classic.
While the transfers of the movie are apparently, almost, if not entirely identical (and the film does look as good as I've seen it) it's the extras on offer on the Criterion release that win the day.
First up a brilliant, as always, commentary from Gilliam, a half hour documentary entitled What Is Brazil?, The Production Notebook, which is a collection of discussions, visual essays and unfilmed storyboards and the 'Love Conquers All' version which was edited for syndicated TV and is interesting but clearly a watered down version. BUT.....best of all we have The Battle For Brazil documentary which is just a fascinating look at the troubles the film had in getting a release. Thankfully Brazil was released. And for me, it's Gilliams' masterpiece. Thank you Criterion for such an exhaustive package covering a brilliant film which is still influencing directors today.
on 15 November 2003
Terry Gilliam is one of my all-time-favourite directors. From a contemporary stand-point at least, the Python films were his least ambitious adventures, even though they were perhaps his funniest. It was after he left the fold of that inimitable crew that he really came into his own, not just as 'the-guy-who-did-those-funny-British-pictures', but as one of the greatest film maestros to ever walk the face of the earth.
Brazil is one of his crowning achievements, from a contemporary stand-point or otherwise. The story encapsulates every pessamistic idea ever dreamt up by the world's grumpiest old men, Orwell's '1984' being the most obvious. What Gilliam brings to this tried and tested form is not the usual straight-laced satirist tendancies, but instead the creation of a somewhat opaque and entirely interpretable cinematic world simply derived, rather than copied from works such as Orwell's.
The protagonist, Sam Lowry, is unhappy for sure; trapped even. But he never displays the same reactionary zeal that Smith develops in '1984'. There is a certain resignation to Lowry's character; a symptom of the society that he was born into, but also it seems, a symptom of his own unshakably sheepish nature. Jonathan Pryce, as usual, never falls short of the director's vision, persistantly surprising us with just how cowardly he can be, whilst at the same time seeming to constantly ask, "well, what would you do?".
Robert DeNiro is tremendously funny as Harry Tuttle; a superbly realised character, classified in my mind as a 'guerilla heating engineer'. This fellow is the epitome of a rebel in an oppressive world; lots of thumbs-up and 'cheer up, champ' kind of behaviour. Fantastic.
The film meets, at it's ending, with it's originators. No hope of rescue from that most desperate of species; the human race. Gilliam always leaves open the hope of a happy ending, even until the bitter end...I shan't give it away, but be prepared for a horrowing resolution to an otherwise quite uplifting film.
If there was any justice in the world, this film would appear beside all possible synonyms of the word 'great' that the dictionary of English speech has to offer.