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Brazil constitutes Terry Gilliam's enormously ambitious follow-up to his 1981 Time Bandits. It also represents the second installment in a trilogy of Gilliam films on imagination versus reality, that began with Bandits and ended in 1989 with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. To create this wild, visually audacious satire, Gilliam combines dystopian elements from Orwell, Huxley and Kafka (plus a central character who mirrors Walter Mitty) with his own trademark, Monty Python-esque, jet black British humor and his gift for extraordinary visual invention. The results are thoroughly unprecedented in the cinema.
Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a civil servant who chooses to blind himself to the decaying, drone-like world around him. It's a world marred by oppressive automatization and towering bureaucracy, and populated by tyrannical guards who strongarm lawbreakers. And Lowry is stuck in the middle of this nightmare. Whenever real life becomes too oppressive, Sam fantasizes (to the tune of Ary Baroso's 1930s hit "Brazil") about sailing through the clouds as a winged superhero, and rescuing beautiful Jill Layton (Kim Greist) from a giant, Samurai warrior. The omnipresent computer that controls everything in the "real" world malfunctions, causing an innocent citizen to be arrested and tortured to death. When Sam routinely investigates the error, he meets - and pursues Jill , literally the girl of his dreams. But in real life, she's a tough-as-nails truck driver who initially wants nothing to do with him. It turns out that she is suspected of underground activities, in connection with a terrorist network wanted for bombing public places. The price Sam pays for his association with her is a close encounter with the man in charge of torturing troublesome citizens (Michael Palin). He is rescued - at the last minute - by maintenance man Harry Tuttle (Robert de Niro) who moonlights as a terrorist, but that only represents the beginning of his plight, for now the "system" is onto him.
Gilliam ran into enormous problems with Brazil. Universal - which produced the picture - originally slated it for release in 1984, but the studio - intimidated by the film's whopping length of 142 minutes - demanded that Gilliam trim the film to bring it in under two hours and alter the pessimistic ending. Gilliam refused; Universal shelved the picture for a year. In response, the director took out a full page ad in Variety asking studio president Sid Sheinberg when the film would be released. Sensing tremendous pressure, Universal bowed to Gilliam's insistence on fewer cuts but still demanded a happy ending. Gilliam trimmed only eleven minutes and altered the conclusion just slightly (instead of cutting to black, it fades into puffy white clouds on a blue sky, with a reprise of the title tune). It was thus released in early 1985 at 131 minutes, and of course became a seminal work; many critics regarded it at the time as the best film of the eighties.