"BRAZIL" is basically "1984" with jokes, a bewildering black comedy directed by Terry Gilliam, the only American member of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Gilliam offers a retro-fitted vision of the future with a distinctly deco view -- a highly textured, provocative extravaganza of argyle sweaters, Nazi architecture, Valkyrian skyscapes and computer screens as they might have looked in Orwell's bad dreams.
Cowriting with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, Gilliam ponders the future implications of terrorism, information processing, central heating and plastic surgery, paying passing tributes to the "Battleship Potemkin," George Orwell, Jonathan Swift and the Japanese.
It's a cinematic view of a worldwide wasteland, a seriocomic story of an innocent paper pusher who plots to save his dream girl from the thought police. The story doesn't flow really; it's more of an outpouring of futuristic sight gags, some of them visceral, as is typical of the Pythonese.
Jonathan Pryce of "The Ploughman's Lunch" stars as Sam Lowry, a vaguely unhappy bureaucrat who falls in love with Jill Layton, a tough little trucker who coincidentally has the same face as the girl of Sam's dreams. Delightful Kim Greist is alternately feisty and floaty in the dual role.
In Sam's fantasies, crosscut into the fabric of the film, he is a Wagnerian superman, with wavy hair and angels' wings, and she is a cloud-borne faerie queen. Skyscrapers explode from the jungle below, like a Pop-Em Brasilia, and she is seized by an outsized Samurai, dressed in a skirt made of silicon chips and circuit boards.
(The message here isn't real subtle, nor is it a unique look at the brave new world. But it's all inclusive as technological evils go, citing everything from sulfides to credit cards.)
Meanwhile, back in real time, Sam takes a computer programming job at Information Retrieval, an agency that extracts truth from its clients through torture. "Confess quickly or it could jeopardize your credit rating," advises a kindly strongarm as he leads a citizen to a chamber and ties him to a dentist's chair.
Michael Palin plays Sam's good friend, a higher up at Retrieval, with Robert De Niro in a memorable role as a renegade custodial engineer. Ian Holm plays an office manager, and Katherine Helmond of TV's "Soap" is the hero's mother, a rich hag whose successive facelifts make her look younger than her own son in the movie's nightmarish ending, a difficult and overwhelming finale full of imagery that turns in on itself like a nest of Russian dolls. And what does it all mean?
The L.A. Film Critics Association selected "Brazil," named for its bossa nova theme song, as the best film of '85, to force Universal into releasing this cut version of Gilliam's cautionary comedy. No doubt the cuts have harmed the product, which was released in a longer version in Europe, where they apparently have a longer attention span.