Brazil

Movie Information

The Asheville Film Society will screen Brazil at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville, and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.
Score:

Genre: Satirical Sci-Fi Fantasy
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin
Rated: R

There never was a film like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) and there may well never be another like it. It remains both the most ambitious and the most completely successful of Gilliam’s baroque cinema of the absurd. (I’d argue that 2009’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus comes close, though.) It was, of course, one of the great cause célèbre works of its time, owing to Universal’s insistence on recutting it—a lot—and weighing it down with a happy ending. Thanks to restored releases, we haven’t dealt with that version of Brazil for some time. Even in its bastardized form, however, it was impossible to lose the enormity of Gilliam’s “retro-futuristic” vision of Great Britain as a police-state nightmare of bureaucratic ineptitude replete with a love of red tape, paperwork and complications. It’s 1984 filtered through Gilliam’s Rube Goldberg, junk-shop vision of the world. It’s a hard film to describe, though it’s not one I’ve ever found hard to follow—as many seem to. Maybe it’s the fact that I came to it from a background of 1960s-‘70s British scattershot satire, and was ready to go with the flow. I think that’s the key to “getting it”—just go with it. The story itself isn’t hard to follow, although the observations, satire, sense of humor and fantasies may be another matter. Thematically, it’s simply a primal scream against conformity in its various guises—presented in such a way that it seems improbable it will ever date. Dense, complex, nightmarish, thought-provoking and ultimately shattering, it’s one of the great “modern” films.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

11 thoughts on “Brazil

  1. Jim Donato

    One of my favorite facets of “Brazil” is that it’s a cautionary fantasy about the very nature of fantasy itself; among other things! You can read the ending as “he escaped” or “he trapped himself” and the ambiguity only makes it more resonant and fascinating. We saw this one both weeks it was in the theatre in Orlando!

  2. Ken Hanke

    And it’s a cautionary fantasy about the nature of fantasy made by a fantasist.

  3. Dionysis

    I really need to see this film again, having only seen it once when it was first released. I don’t remember all that much about it, but do recall a phrase from the film that stuck with me: “Nice duct work!”

  4. Ken Hanke

    Well, you know where you can see it again and we’d be glad to have you.

  5. Dionysis

    “Well, you know where you can see it again and we’d be glad to have you.”

    I’ll try very hard to make it. Would I need to obtain membership before the screening (as I assume)?

  6. Ken Hanke

    No, no. The Tuesday and Thursday night films are free and open to anyone. Membership gets you some perks — like $1 off regular admissions to the theater and special free screenings of certain movies before they open to the public — but isn’t required for these showings. That said, I would recommend getting there early — by which I mean before 7:30. Last night with The Ruling Class was the first time in ages I got to sit down during a movie. I do not know what to make of the fact that this review has had over 1200 views in less than 24 hours, but since a lot of the readership isn’t necessarily local, that may not translate into a packed house.

  7. Daniel Withrow

    This, along with City of Lost Children, was one of my formative movie experiences as an adolescent. I did find the plot difficult to follow on the first watching, but it bore enough rewatchings that everything became clear (well, “everything” is putting it a bit strongly). I agree with Hanke that it and Imaginarium are Gilliam’s best works: I finally had to admit to myself that overall I don’t like Gilliam very much, but when he’s on, my God is he ever on.

    I like to think that Brazil and Bladerunner occupy the same world on different continents.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I agree with Hanke that it and Imaginarium are Gilliam’s best works: I finally had to admit to myself that overall I don’t like Gilliam very much, but when he’s on, my God is he ever on.

    I fully love this and Parnassus. I like Time Bandits, Munchausen (though it feels like a lot of effort for very little point) and the much-maligned Brothers Grimm. But I don’t like the others that I’ve seen. I can’t weigh in on Tideland because the DVD vanished before I could watch it and I just don’t want to buy something I’ve never seen twice.

  9. Xanadon't

    I can’t weigh in on Tideland because the DVD vanished before I could watch it and I just don’t want to buy something I’ve never seen twice.

    Whatever ‘force’ is responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Tideland, consider it a benevolent one.

    That said, since I don’t have a dog in the fight so far as baseball playoffs go, I may have to head up to the lounge for Brazil. Been 10 years since I saw it for the first and only time.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Should you do so, introduce yourself, though I suspect your name is actually something a little less Coleridgeian (or Jeff Lynneian, as the case may be).

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