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Brazil: Criterion Collection

Review Written by: Jack Gattanella
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A/A/A+

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown
Produced by: Arnon Milchan
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

Terry Gilliam's Brazil has its protagonist in Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce, who perfectly captures a man trapped in circumstance), a computer worker who sees control all over, but it is constantly in-efficient. Such as when he has a broken vent in his apartment and in sneaks a heating engineer named Tuttle (Robert De Niro, who is under-used in this film as he appears for all of three minutes), who is supposed to be brought in when a mistake is made and a Mr. Buttle (Brian Miller) is captured. When Lowry visits the home of Buttle to get a signature and looks up into the circular hole in the ceiling, he sees the reality version of the woman from his dreams, Jill Layton (Kim Greist). He now sees a spark of light in his muck of life. It all leads into a frantic, dream versus reality third act that will either keep viewers locked into amazement or, well, scratching their heads.

Although Brazil, writer/director Terry Gilliam's throwback to Kafka, film-noir and some of Orwell's 1984, seems like it will be so on the outset, the film having asked of us to think about it, is more than that. On a first viewing visceral, loaded with information via the visuals and often very funny, but not really a 'masterpiece' of a first go-around, but this, like his Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, gains more attention to details and more laughs and emotional output on repeat viewings. It's his most audacious work on a fairly low budget. However, even Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Twelve Monkeys, which have a crazed zest in their visual qualities and wit (co-written by ultra-acclaimed Tom Stoppard) can't really compare (or rather isn't fair to compare) to the images here. Brazil is a city of despair, control, and meticulous, gloomy craft and Lowry's escapes in his dream world are sweeping in true fantasy fashion, like something out of a darker fairy tale from the early 20th century. He laces his images with often wicked satire and while towards the end, the logic starts to leak more than it should, the atmosphere is unquestionably Gilliam.

Quite simply, this remains one of the ten best DVD packages the Criterion collection has released. On the first disc is a newly re-mastered, crisp copy of the 'uncut' 142 minute version of the film with cool, on-the-dot commentary by Gilliam. On the second disc are the mass of supplements, and enough to keep Brazil fans alert for hours: a documentary version of Jack Matthew's book 'The Battle over Brazil' about the controversy surrounding the American release of the film (the studio tug-of-war to keep it un-released, and the battle to get it shown). There's a short documentary entitled "What is Brazil" from 1984 explaining the making of the film. Little bits are given to the music, production design, writing the script, etc, as well as the theatrical trailer. The third disc makes the package most intriguing; there's a 94 minute "Love Conquers All" version edited by the studio as a 'possibility' for release. It includes commentary on that by a critic. To have two versions of the film, documentaries up the wazoo, interviews and all in colorful menus, makes it a great, great package.

Not everyone may get it on the first viewing, and indeed this is probably what affected much of the controversy when it came out, but it's hard to dismiss it with other studio fare of the period. Art will either turn people on immensely, or perplex them and sort of disgust them while keeping an odd fascination. Like the dreams of the hero, the layers of style (there's fantasy/sci-fi, but also the bleak, dark perfection of film-noir) and content. Those who think that a film made by a Monty Python alumnus will be hokey and too ludicrous to take seriously will get a chance to see a unique, demented-en-regalia work. At the least, very few will show indifference...I think (and at least, you'll be humming the theme song once it's through).

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