Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brazil (1985) * * *

Set in a dystopian retro futuristic world which relies on machines, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a young man often daydreaming of saving a beautiful maiden while he is working as a low-level government employee and living in a small apartment. One day he is assigned the task of rectifying an error created by a government mishap, causing the incarceration of Mr Archebald Buttle (Brian Miller), shoe repairman, instead of the suspected terrorist, Archebald "Harry" Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a Heating Engineer. When Sam visits Buttle's wife, he discovers Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the upstairs neighbor of the Buttles, is the same woman as in his dreams. Jill is trying to help Mrs. Buttle find out what happened to her husband, but has tired of dealing with the bureaucracy. Unknown to her, she is now considered a terrorist friend of Tuttle for trying to report the mistake of Buttle's arrest in Tuttle's place to bureaucrats who would not admit such a mistake. When Sam tries to approach her, she is very cautious and avoids giving him full details, worried the government will track her down. During this time, Sam comes in contact with the real Harry Tuttle, a renegade air conditioning specialist who once worked for the government but left due to the amount of paperwork. Tuttle helps Sam deal with two government workers who are taking their time fixing the broken air conditioning in Sam's apartment.

Harry Tuttle: Bloody paperwork. Huh!
Sam Lowry: I suppose one has to expect a certain amount.
Harry Tuttle: Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form.

Sam determines the only way to learn about Jill is to transfer to "Information Retrieval" where he would have access to her classified records. He requests the help of his mother Ida Lowry (Katherine Helmond), who is vainly addicted to rejuvenating plastic surgery under the care of cosmetic surgeon Dr. Jaffe (Jim Broadbent). She has connections and helps her son get the position.

Sam: My name's Lowry. Sam Lowry. I've been told to report to Mr. Warrenn.
Porter: Thirtieth floor, sir. You're expected.
Sam: Um... don't you want to search me?
Porter: No sir.
Sam: Do you want to see my ID?
Porter: No need, sir.
Sam: But I could be anybody.
Porter: No you couldn't sir. This is Information Retrieval.

Sam eventually obtains Jill's records and tracks her down before she is arrested, then falsifies her records to make her appear deceased, allowing her to escape the bureaucracy. They share a romantic night together before Sam is apprehended by the government at gun-point for misusing his position. The bureaucracy considers him responsible for a rash of terrorist bombings. Sam is taken to be tortured by his old friend, Jack Lint (Michael Palin), and he is now considered part of a terrorist plot including Jill and Tuttle.

Before Jack can start, Tuttle and other members of the resistance shoot Jack and save Sam, blowing up the Ministry building as they flee. As they try to disappear into the crowds, Tuttle's disappearance is surreal and mysterious. He is covered by the scraps of paper from the destroyed Ministry building, and once Sam comes to his aid and tears through the paper, Tuttle has disappeared. The scene becomes dream-like as Sam runs to his mother at a funeral. The funeral is for Mrs. Alma Terrain (Barbara Hicks), who recently died from cosmetic surgery gone wrong. Sam's mother, thanks to Dr. Jaffe's repeated surgery, now seems like in her 20's again, looking exactly like Sam's love interest Jill, and is surrounded by a flock of juvenile admirers younger than Sam himself. She refuses to help, and falling into Mrs. Terrain's seemingly bottomless coffin, he then continues to run from the police in streets that resemble the concrete and brick walls of his nightmare daydreams. When he finds himself surrounded on three sides by the police and the imaginary monsters of his nightmares, he turns to the only escape left and climbs up a pile of old flex-ducts, finds safety in a trailer driven by Jill, and the two leave the city together.

However, it is quickly revealed this happy ending is all happening inside Sam's head. Two faces come into view staring at the camera, that of Jack and Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), who as Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information is the system's highest official we see in the film. What they are looking at is Sam having become insane at Jack's hands. Jack stops torturing Sam, who is left with a smile on his face, humming "Brazil" as Jack moves Mr. Helpmann in his wheelchair away from the scene.

(last lines)
Mr. Helpmann: He's got away from us, Jack.
Jack Lint: 'Fraid you're right, Mr. Helpmann. He's gone.

BRAZIL is a witty vision of an extremely bleak future, a great example of the power of comedy to underscore serious ideas. Generally called "sci-fi noir", it is a view of what the 1980s might look like from the perspective of a 1940's filmmaker, an eclectic yet coherent mixture of styles and production designs depicting technology in a highly structured and bureaucratic state. It's an Orwellian vision of the future, with the citizens completely controlled by the state, while technology remains almost as it was in the 1970's. The totalitarian government is reminiscent of the one depicted in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", except that it has a clownish, slap-stick quality, is capitalist rather than communist, and lacks a Big Brother figure.

This movie takes a darkly humorous look at consumerism and totalitarian inhumanity. In outdoor scenes, faceless people are often seen moving full shopping carts in the streets. In one scene a person leading a brass band is holding a sign that reads "Consumers for Christ". A young girl is asked what she wants for Christmas and she quickly replies, "My own credit card!" While Sam is strapped to a chair about to be tortured, a police officer tells him, "Don't fight it son! Confess quickly, or you'll jeopardize your credit rating."

Director Terry Gilliam sometimes refers to this film as the second in his "Trilogy of Imagination" movies, starting with TIME BANDIT (1981) and ending with THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989). All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible." All three movies focus on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination: TIME BANDITS through the eyes of a child, BRAZIL through the eyes of a thirty-something year old, and "Munchausen" through the eyes of an elderly man. Gilliam said that BRAZIL was inspired by George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", but written from today's perspective. In Gilliam's words, his film is "the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984."

Film critic Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice wrote, "Gilliam understood that all futuristic films end up quaintly evoking the naive past in which they were made, and turned the principle into a coherent comic aesthetic." However, Roger Ebert disliked it, writing it "is awash in elaborate special effects, sensational sets, apocalyptic scenes of destruction and a general lack of discipline," as well as, "The movie is very hard to follow. I have seen it twice, and am still not sure exactly who all the characters are, or how they fit." The plot itself is rather thin, existing mainly as an excuse to lead the viewer into various corners of an unexpectedly humorous Orwellian world. Though a success in Europe, the film flopped upon initial release in North America, but it has since become an important cult film. There are scenes missing in the UK release of the film that Americans saw in US theaters. The reasons for excluding these scenes from the UK version and adding them to the US version are unknown.

The cast also includes: Ian Holm (Mr. M. Kurtzmann), Bob Hoskins (Spoor), Ian Richardson (Mr. Warrenn), Charles McKeown (Harvey Lime), Derrick O'Connor (Dowser), Kathryn Pogson (Shirley), Bryan Pringle (Spiro), Sheila Reid (Mrs. Buttle), John Flanagan (T.V. Interviewer / Salesman), Ray Cooper (Technician), Simon Nash (Boy Buttle), Prudence Oliver (Girl Buttle), Simon Jones (Arrest Official), Derek Deadman (Bill--Dept. of Works), Nigel Planer (Charlie--Dept. of Works), Terence Bayler (T.V Commercial Presenter), Gorden Kaye (M.O.I. Lobby Porter), Tony Portacio (Neighbour in Clark's Pool), Bill Wallis (Bespectacled lurker), Winston Dennis (Samurai Warrior), Jack Purvis (Dr. Chapman), Elizabeth Spender (Alison / "Barbara" Lint), Anthony Brown (Porter - Information Retrieval), Myrtle Devenish (Typist in Jack's Office), Holly Gilliam (Holly), John Pierce Jones (Basement Guard), Ann Way (Old Lady with Dog), Don Henderson (First Black Maria Guard), Howard Lew Lewis (Second Black Maria Guard), Oscar Quitak (Interview Official), Harold Innocent (Interview Official), John Grillo (Interview Official), Ralph Nossek (Interview Official), David Gant (Interview Official), James Coyle (Interview Official), Patrick Connor (Cell Guard), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Priest), Russell Keith Grant (Young Gallant at Funeral), Sue Hodge, Dominic Ffytche (Office boy), Terry Forestal (Running Trooper), Terry Gilliam (Smoking man at Shang-ri La Towers), John Hasler (Naughty little boy), and Peter Sands (Ida's boyfriend). Michael Kamen composed the original music. Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown wrote the screenplay. Terry Gilliam directed.

The 3-DVD box set of BRAZIL starts off with the "final final" director's cut of the film, with a runtime of 142 minutes. There are eight minutes of footage added to this release. It is presented in its original 1.85:1 dimensions. The box set presents the feature film in its correct aspect ratio for the first time, but the version on the original DVD release is not enhanced for newer widescreen TVs. New 16:9-enhanced editions of the film in both a complete set and separate film-only disc were re-issued on DVD by Criterion on September 5, 2006. Despite all Criterion's bullshit, the print is flawed. The notes mention a few digital scratch removers, but there is dirt and empty spots in many of the frames. Ary Barroso's 1939 song "Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolor of Brazil") is the theme of the film, although other background music is also heard. Michael Kamen, who scored the music, originally recorded "Brazil" with vocals by Kate Bush. This recording was not included in the movie or the original soundtrack release. However, it has been subsequently released on re-pressings of the soundtrack.

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