Classic British Films #5: Brazil

For our last film in the Classic British Films series, we are ending on the weird and wonderful Terry Gilliam, in one of his most famous and highly acclaimed films which is now a cult classic.

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‘Brazil’ is a weird film. I can almost guarantee it will be one of the weirdest films you will ever see. Being a film that is co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, you can hardly expect it to be anything but abnormal! Having covered ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ in a previous Classic British Films review, we can now look at a film from one of the Pythons when he established himself as a director.

Brazil 2Set in a futuristic, bureaucratic society, ‘Brazil’ follows Sam Lowry, an ordinary man who is very comfortable with his job and life, whilst everyone around him is striving to improve on everything they have, from their jobs to their looks. Sam dreams every night about the same woman, and after catching a glimpse of her in the real world, he tries to track her down. The society Sam lives in is similar to that of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four but without a Big Brother figure, and it is presented in a more humorous and dysfunctional fashion. In particular, the society is very reliant on machines which often don’t work.

Sam Lowry is played by Jonathan Pryce, who does a superb job of playing a man trying to live a normal life in an ever advancing and governed world. Pryce has to carry most of the film himself as his is the central character, and apart from the first scene, he is in the film the whole way through. He does an excellent job, and has often said since that ‘Brazil’ is the highlight of his film career. There is also an excellent supporting cast of well-known names, including another Python Michael Palin, Kim Greist, Bob Hoskins, Katherine Helmond and Robert De Niro.

‘Brazil’ is also co-written by the playwright Tom Stoppard, which brings a theatrical feel to the film. If you have seen a Terry Gilliam film before, you will know what his work is like! His films are very crazy with the characters often behaving in unusual manors, with odd-angled camera shots to reflect this. There is a lot of use of close up facial shots and long lens action shots to make the viewer understand the emotions of the characters. That is not to say the film is completely serious, as there are many funny scenes, especially between Pryce and Greist. ‘Brazil’ manages to combine a mixture of drama, humour and romance very well.

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When ‘Brazil’ was due for release in 1985, European distribution was handled by 20th Century Fox, whereas US distribution was handled by Universal Pictures. However, the chairman on Universal, Sid Sheinberg, was unhappy with the ending, and wanted it altered. After a lengthy delay, and with the film still un-released in the US, Terry Gilliam released the film himself without studio approval, and won Best Picture at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. This prompted Universal to release the film with 11 minutes cut under Gilliam’s supervision, but with the ending unaltered. Although the film never did very well in the US, it was received with critical acclaim across Europe, and has since become a cult classic. It is now known as one of Terry Gilliam’s best films.

Ultimately, ‘Brazil’ is a satire on society, and has been described as representing everything that Terry Gilliam hates about a Brazil 4bureaucratic world. It is a film with a serious message, but which can also be watched for its humorous qualities. Although Terry Gilliam is a marmite director, and he certainly likes to make films which make the audience think, his main purpose is to entertain, which he certainly does. If you have yet to see a Terry Gilliam film, ‘Brazil’ is the perfect way to start.

Although this film may not seem like a Classic British Film just yet, it is on its way to becoming one. It is already a cult classic, and is often written about as a great British film, which it certainly is. If you want something refreshing to watch which will keep your brain engaged, then ‘Brazil’ will certainly do the job!

We hope you have enjoyed the Classic British Films series! What films would you say are worthy of being called a Classic British Film? Let us know in the comments below!

Words by Suzanne Camfield