Shiny Shelf


SHINY ADVENT: Brazil

By Mags L Halliday on 02 December 2006

‘Brazil’ is Terry Gilliam’s absurdist take on Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’: not merely a totalitarian dystopia but an incompetent one, where it is not thoughtcrime which destroys you but a mistake in the paperwork. Sam, a deliberately underachieving civil servant who dreams of flying, makes the mistake of falling in love with a suspected terrorist and ends up in a torture chamber.

The Christmas here, “somewhere in the twentieth century”, is all-pervasive: from the neon trees in the rich shopping arcade to the broken paperchains and Christmas tree in the Buttles’s ruined flat. Sam’s mother is spending Christmas at her plastic surgeon’s: a new version of herself will be unwrapped with the presents. Jill, Sam’s lover, wraps herself up as present as well as carrying a suspicious brown parcel. The sound of jingling bells presages the arrival of the death squads who bundle people up into anonymous presents, and Helpmann, the deputy head of the Ministry of Information, is dressed as Santa when he visits Sam in his padded cell.

A lot of credit should go to the uniformly excellent cast (Peter Vaughn as the avuncular Big Brother, Robert de Niro as a terrorist plumber, Michael Palin playing both to and against type), the script by Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, and the visual design which creates a dismally grey retro-future. But Gilliam’s directorial flair is on form here and ‘Brazil’ should be rightly considered one of his masterworks. Christmas in a totalitarian state shouldn’t be this funny.

Buy ‘Brazil’ at Amazon.


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