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Meta-daptations: Brazil

July 27, 2009

Movie: Brazil

Based on: 1984

brazilTerry Gilliam’s films have always been a bit childish—full of eye-catching oddities that strike you for the first half hour or so but tend to wear thin over the next sixty minutes. Everyone knows the line “We can’t stop here, this is bat country” in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; not many recall, “I’ve never missed a plane…except one time in Peru”—at least I think that’s how it goes.

Terry Gilliam movies have always used the formula of celebrity cameos—a star comes on, says their piece or plays out their short story, and then exits stage wherever. Sometimes Terry Gilliam’s formula of using celebrity cameos works (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), sometimes it doesn’t (Time Bandits)—it really depends on how interesting the character is.

Brazil: I can’t remember a movie that has made me both laugh and cry—and spooked me, and made me feel romantic, and many other things. And Brazil does that.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil doesn’t have much of a plot—in a dystopian world, government drone Jonathan Pryce has recurring dreams of a beautiful woman, meets said woman in real life, gets her, loses her, and then…well, some other stuff involving Robert DeNiro as a renegade fixer, a giant samurai, and Michael Palin wearing the creepiest mask in Christendom and beyond happens.

The meat of Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece, is in the moments—first and foremost are the visuals, which are Gilliam’s greatest strength as a director. Everything from lead Jonathan Pryce’s dreams, to his office, to the medical center, to the Ministry (and who could forget the car?) are rendered with a parental love, and their details provide some of the best jokes.  Say what you will about Gilliam’s desultory stories, the man never cheats on his backgrounds and effects.

Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam) has a brazen originality. It’s not so much based on as inspired by 1984 (one of the working titles was 19841⁄2) , but nowhere near as serious, which is probably good for Gilliam because he’s not a very serious man. But that’s not to say it’s a comedy either. Though it sort of is. It’s a com-rom-dram.

Gilliam often deploys the celebrity-cameo formula (Bob Hoskins, DeNiro, Palin, Katherine Helmond, Jim Broadbent [though before he got big], Ian Holm, Ian Richardson…), but B’s unique in that they’re not self-contained stories—they develop along with main plot. No other Gilliam movie does that, so I suspect it was co-writer Tom Stoppard (Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead)’s idea.

Anyway; it has a structure despite itself, and its vignettes are aligned in such a way as to come off disjointed, but from you they draw a cascade of feelings. And not many can do that.

Frothygilz rating 7/10


2 Responses to “ Meta-daptations: Brazil ”

  1. anncine on July 27, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I just sneezed and as my head jerked, a bit of my hair dipped into my coffee..Had to mention that because it was such a bizarre feat that I could not duplicate it EVER again. Great post, Nat and yet another movie I plan to revisit.

  2. Sara on July 27, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    The idea of Robert DeNiro as a renegade fixer in something other than real life merits a visit to my rawther varied library in order to check out this movie.
    Incidentally, I watched Sunshine Cleaning on the plane back to the States…Don’t.