“Brazil (1985)” Review

Hi there. I want to talk to you about ducts.

Why did I watch it?

Long-time fan of Gilliam and Python. Loved Time Bandits and, though I’ve seen some of the lesser efforts such as Dr Parnassus, I’d not managed to watch what is widely regarded as Gilliams best work.

Did it meet expectations?

And some!

It’s darker and more Pythonesque than Time Bandits. It’s a post-1984 exploration of dreams and nightmares, combining surrealist comedy (there’s a rogue heating repair man played by… Robert De Niro!) with Gilliam’s utterly beautiful designs. But in this dark world the tragedy is played straight and sears through the absurdity.

Jonathan Pryce is superb as the dreamer, living for his fantasies whilst keeping skills hidden to stay below the radar in the department. Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson and Jim Broadbent all make small appearances, and fellow Python Michael Palin (The Death of Stalin) takes a significant supporting role, playing against his nicest-man-in-the-world reputation.  He’s really, really good, which is surprising only in that he has too little recognition for his straight roles.

I didn’t know why Brazil was so named, but it is for the song – which I heard for the first time in the film (Geoff Muldaur’s version). I only recently learned that Port Talbot inspired Scott’s vision of 2019 LA in Bladerunner so, having just watched the Part-Talbot set thriller Bang, I was surprised to learn that it is also the inspiration for Brazil. Seeing the coal blackened beaches, Gilliams imagined a man listening to a radio and dreaming.

The score is by Michael Kamen, who I’m only really familiar with for Licence to Kill (which has yet to convince me of its place in my CD collection) but his work on this is exceptional. The music, along with Gilliam’s imagery, has stayed with me for days and days.

This really is an amazing film – not only Gilliam’s finest, but one of the greats of cinema.

You should watch it if…

  • You admire 1984 or, indeed, any dystopian fantasy
  • You have any interest in Terry Gilliam’s extraordinary imagination and visual sensibility
  • You are remotely interested in cinema

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You are considering plastic surgery

Up next: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)


About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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