Sam Lowry is a harried technocrat in a futuristic society that is needlessly convoluted and inefficient. He dreams of a life where he can fly away from technology and overpowering bureaucracy, and spend eternity with the woman of his dreams. While trying to rectify the wrongful arrest of one Harry Buttle, Lowry meets the woman he is always chasing in his dreams, Jill Layton. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy has fingered him responsible for a rash of terrorist bombings, and both Sam and Jill's lives are put in danger.
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
. Starring: Jonathan Pryce
, Robert De Niro
, Katherine Helmond
, Ian Holm
, Bob Hoskins
, Michael Palin
, Ian Richardson
, Peter Vaughan
, Kim Greist
, Jim Broadbent
, Barbara Hicks
, Charles McKeown
, Derrick O'Connor
. Music by: Michael Kamen
Terry Gilliam's Brazil (named after the 1939 song, "Aquarela do Brasil") fits into the type of film that satirizes futuristic, dystopian societies. The two things keeping it apart from similar films are its humorous screenplay and, most impressively, its set-design.
The year is...something, in the town of....somewhere. The film never explains when and where we are and perhaps that's the point. The cities of the future could look radically different than how we view them today, perhaps unrecognizably so. Perhaps Brazil is named after a city in real-life Brazil except without its characteristic nature and beaches, etc. We see Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a bureaucrat living the only way possible for a bureaucrat in a film, bored. His mother (Katherine Helmond) spends almost all her time at the plastic surgeon; her mother's friend tries to hook him up with her daughter; his boss (Ian Holm) depends on him for the most simple of tasks. In short: a rather restricting life. He dreams, however, of flying through the clouds and trying to rescue a damsel in distress (Kim Greist). These dreams, he keeps to himself. When trying to rectify a bureaucratic error, the cause of which is hilarious, he sees the woman of his dreams and spends most of the film trying to find her, while also simultaneously finding himself in all sorts of bureaucratic trouble.
Without a doubt, the real joys of Brazil are to be found in the many ways both the screenplay and set-design satirize the dystopian society. These are the things which made me wish the film never ended, not the main plot which grew rather uninteresting for me towards the end. Consider a scene where Sam, his mother and some friends are eating in a restaurant. One of them orders something along the lines of meat. When it arrives, however, it turns out to be a soft lump of ...something, thus ridiculing in a 2001 kind of way how the food of the future will look (and taste) like. Moments later, a bomb explodes. While people are bleeding in the background and fires are being extinguished, Sam and company calmly proceed to talk as if nothing happened. There are numerous of these kinds of satirical highlights which I'll leave for you to discover.
There are a couple of issues with Brazil, one of which is its consistency in tone. It's an issue I also had with Gilliam's The Fisher King which went from funny to incredibly melodramatic when Robin Williams' character's traumatic history was revealed. Because much of the film was humorous in nature, I found the dramatic scenes were more difficult to take seriously. In Brazil, it's the scene featuring a certain widow which stands out as the dramatic highlight. Gilliam knows how to generate pathos, but the satirical nature of both films reduce the effectiveness somewhat.
A review of Brazil simply cannot exclude a mention of the film's troubled history which is a famous story. To keep it short: director Gilliam fought against Universal's Sid Sheinberg who kept the film from being released to make a different cut, the so-called "Love Conquers All" version (can't imagine how that would end...). Gilliam threatened to burn the negative and appeared with one of the film's actors, Robert de Niro, on the Today show. He eventually arranged for private screenings in Los Angeles for the LA Film Critics Assocation, who awarded it Best Picture, Director and Screenplay after which Sheinberg, embarrassed, was forced to release the film anyway. What makes this background story interesting are the parallels between Sheinberg's actions and the very point Gilliam was trying to make with Brazil (i.e. bureaucratic meddling, etc.). It lends an incredible irony that is both funny and frightening.
In the end, Brazil has earned its place in the Hall of Fame of satire with its hilarious, though flawed, script and fantastic art-direction. See this film-'not for the main plot-'but for the endlessly creative satire.
Review by Lucas Versantvoort from the Internet Movie Database.