It's hard to explain Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil—so hard, in fact, that Universal constantly held off on releasing it, and Gilliam had to resort to stealth screenings for critics and an ad in Variety to get it to the public. (The whole mess was chronicled in a book, The Battle for Brazil). Indeed, on paper it's a mess—a fantasy set in a dystopian 1984-type reality told in the style of a 1930s screwball comedy with extended dream sequences involving angel armor, a giant samurai and the recurring motif of the titular torch song. Also, Robert De Niro as a vigilante plumber. But in execution, Brazil is a wondrous, often hilarious film with a unique, dreamlike power. It remains one of my favorites—I own the Criterion DVD set (complete with the horrific studio cut with the happier ending) and a rendering of the angel character. And I met the last girl I dated because of our mutual fondness for the film.
Why does Brazil have such an effect on people? Well, it's one of the few films to create a genuinely unique and unpredictable world. You never know what's going to happen from one scene to the next—from its hilarious portrayal of the nightmarish bureaucracy where protagonist Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) struggles with a desk shared with the person the next room over, to Lowry's lunch with his mother (Katherine Helmond), who has just undergone grotesque plastic surgery, to the massive ductwork De Niro contends with in Sam's apartment. The film's images linger in the brain, but its greatest power comes from how its bizarre, abstracted reality feels strangely relatable. At its heart, Brazil is about being a dreamer, the difficulty in realizing those dreams in waking life and the small triumph that comes from holding on to them even as chaos reigns around you. Relive this classic surreal fantasy or experience Brazil for the first time tonight at 7 p.m. —Zack Smith