Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s fantastical satire of bureaucracy gone mad is one of the most visually imaginative works in modern cinema.

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“There are artists whose gift is to put down roots within the world of dreams... James Joyce did it in Finnegan’s Wake. Terry Gilliam, I believe, does something very like it in Brazil.”
Salman Rushdie, American Film magazine, 1985

Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam was at his most ferociously inventive with Brazil, his third solo outing as a director. It follows dreamy pen-pusher (Jonathan Pryce) as he battles a menacing bureaucratic system in pursuit of his ideal woman. The film’s original title, 1984½, hints at the twin influences of George Orwell and director Federico Fellini, while Gilliam himself described it as “Frank Capra meets Franz Kafka”.

There are cameos from Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin, but the true star is Norman Garwood’s retro-futuristic production design. The film became a cause célèbre when Universal refused to release it in the US, prompting a public battle between Gilliam and the studio which the director won.

The shadow of Brazil looms large over movie dystopias and alternate realities, visible a quarter-century on in films such as The Dark Knight (2008) and Sucker Punch (2011).

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