Somewhere in the 20th Century, the world has become an Orwellian dystopia of farcical proportions. In a world where no mistakes are acknowledged, a random swatted fly falling into a typewriter causes a man named Buttle to be arrested in place of rogue terrorist heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). Tasked with tying up the error’s loose ends is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a menial yet essential worker within the Department of Records who his boss Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm) would be lost without if he were ever promoted. Sam finds his quest to rectify the situation exacerbated by the likes of his plastic surgery-obsessed mother (Katherine Helmond), less than efficient government-employed heating technicians (Bob Hoskins & Derrick O’Connor), executive desk trinkets and his own dreams which see him flying around saving his literal dream girl (Kim Greist) from monstrous demons.
This film was nominated for me to watch by Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights and Movie Nights, FilmWhys and Channel: Superhero. It’s one of the few nominated movies that I’ve definitely seen before, I just can’t remember a great deal about them other than the last time I watched it I didn’t “get” it. I remembered a lot of the imagery, particularly the horrifically terrifying baby masks worn by the employees in the Department of Information Retrieval (or torture, as we’d call it). However I’m always happy to watch a Terry Gilliam movie, and was looking forward to this viewing in spite of knowing these masks were in my future.
Brazil is awesome. I loved it. The production design in particular is just phenomenal. So much work has been invested in realising this world of patched-together, barely-functioning yet entirely automated everything. Even the bath-plug in Sam’s shower is electronically inserted into the bath. It’s a world full of little details and hints at explaining the world. Take the screens, for example. Every television or computer screen is tiny, but has been enlarged for its user by way of a magnifying screen. This speaks of a world where improvements could be made but a stop-gap solution has been implemented and rendered permanent by virtue of so many other things needing fixing now too. That’s why there are ducts all over the place, everywhere, so much so that there are commercials for new, more aesthetically pleasing ducts. Ducts!
There’s also more than a great deal of humour that absolutely works for me, particularly revolving around the two government heating engineers and their giant caps. I won’t soil the run-in they have with De Niro’s Tuttle, but damn was that funny. Disgusting, nauseating, but funny nonetheless. That’s a knack Gilliam – who let’s not forget was an integral member of Monty Python – has, imbuing some of the more dramatic scenes with plenty of laughs. For example, Sam has to take a receipt to the wife of Buttle, the man who was wrongfully arrested and subsequently killed by virtue of an administrative error. If Sam can get Mrs. Buttle to sign the back of the cheque so she can cash it at the post office, the whole affair will be over with, but understandably she’s distraught at the situation, what with her innocent husband and the father of her two children having been arrested in a very brutal and destructive manner, yet somehow Gilliam makes this scene, which sees her breaking down in tears demanding to know what has been done with her husband’s body, funny. It’s in Pryce’s nervous squirming and dancing around questions, it’s in the shots of ludicrous carnage left by the arresting team, it’s in the child rugby tackling Pryce into a Christmas tree at the end of the scene.
This is a film that could be endlessly broken down and analysed over and again, there’s so much to unpack! There’s a stenographer for torture, who writes down every scream and gunshot. There are fights over a desk either side of a wall. There’s a necrophilia joke! My only complaint is it goes a little off the rails (more than in the rest of the film) during an escapade that turns into a car chase scene that felt entirely unnecessary other than adding an action scene that felt like another film, but that’s a small issue. As it is, I’m very much looking forward to revisiting Brazil again soon.
Choose Film 9/10