BRAZIL (1985)

"Brazil, when hearts were entertained in June, we stood beneath the amber moon, and softly whispered someday soon..."

Ary Boroso's classic tune provides the aural backdrop for Brazil, the comic fantasy directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam. The second in Gilliam's loosely related trilogy (along with Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Brazil is a masterpiece of modern cinema, an epic Orwellian fairy tale that succeeds as blistering satire, moving romance, delirious fantasy, and heartbreaking caveat. At the top of my all-time favorites (a position it shares with Amadeus and Miller's Crossing), I would recommend Brazil to absolutely everybody.

Set somewhere in the 20th century at 8:49 p.m., the film depicts a few days in the life of petty clerk Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) who, while attempting to rectify a sizable bureaucratic error for his incompetent boss (Ian Holm) at the Ministry of Information, finally happens upon the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist).

Gilliam's inspired direction, a kind of moderated lunacy, breathes humanity into Brazil's stark landscape. As if the sheer spectacle of Gilliam's fantastic creation weren't enough to indulge movie fans, Brazil also tips its hat to a number of cinema classics, from Casablanca to The Battleship Potemkin. Jonathan Pryce's portrayal of Sam Lowry -- an unforgettable amalgamation of Walter Mitty, Sam Spade, and Buster Keaton -- remains one of the great overlooked performances in recent film. And that's to say nothing of the wonderful supporting turns by Robert DeNiro and Michael Palin.

In sum, the movie is not only a perfect parable of postmodern plight -- it is a celebration of the magic of film itself.

"Now, when twilight gleams from skies above, recalling thrills of our love, there's one thing I'm certain of...

...Return I will, to old Brazil."


[First appeared in Harvard Independent, 1997.]

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