Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin
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.
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.