Brazil was released in 1985 and was directed by Terry Gilliam. It was released by Criterion on DVD on September 5, 2006 and on Blu-Ray on December 4, 2012 as spine #51. Gilliam also directed Time Bandits (spine #37) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (spine #175), and worked on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (spine #61).
A fly gets caught in a printer, creating a typo and resulting in an innocent man accidentally being interrogated to death. Low-level employee Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) attempts to fix the error and runs into the (literal) girl of his dreams, Jill (Kim Greist), along the way. Together, they try to untangle the vast bureaucratic web that constitutes the government.
It can be hard to write about a film when its greatness seems so self-evident. Brazil is a satiric masterpiece, and its take on the intersection of bureaucracy and government grows more relevant by the day. It’s a pitch-perfect critique of power structures. It manages to make the abstract idea of “the government” seem both laughable and intimidating. Brazil proves that an incompetent government is far scarier than a totalitarian one. Its production design feeds into this, exaggerating the world’s regimentation to an absurd degree but still resembling reality enough for the satire to land. Gilliam’s characteristically askew camerawork helps to play up the alienness of the world, but the characters in Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown’s brilliant screenplay are always recognizably human. That combination is at the heart of a lot of Gilliam’s work, and Brazil is the most Gilliam-y of them all. It’s one of the best comedies ever made. Just watch it already.
The real reason to buy this Criterion set is the supplemental material. This is arguably the best Criterion release ever, and the film itself is only a small part of it. The headline feature is the “Love Conquers All” version of the film, a 94-minute studio-approved cut which excises the film’s weirder aspects and gives it a happy ending. It’s an alternate-universe version of Brazil created by the same kind of bureaucracy that Brazil is so opposed to. Gilliam fought the studio hard to preserve his vision, and they eventually compromised on cutting about ten minutes for the film’s theatrical release (Gilliam’s full director’s cut is on disc one). That fight is chronicled in a documentary called The Battle of “Brazil”, also included in this release. The doc can be a bit dry, but the story itself is fascinating. Gilliam pulled some crazy stunts to pressure the studio into releasing his version. There’s another documentary called What Is “Brazil”? that was filmed on-set. It’s also intriguing, just not in the same way. Rounding out the set is a “production notebook,” basically a hodgepodge of various Brazil-related clips and pictures. Those first two features alone are worth the price of the set.
If you’re going to buy one Criterion in your life, make it this one. The film is fantastic, and the extra features are a great primer on the politics of the film industry. If you’re interested in film in any capacity, you should probably pick this up.
Criterion Grade: A+
Film Grade: A