Beyond all its Orwellian shenanigans, "Brazil" (screening at UC Irvine on Friday night) is essentially a love story set in a densely visual future charged by ex-Monty Pythoner Terry Gilliam's fertile but scattershot wit.
Gilliam's hero, Sam (Jonathan Pryce), is a nondescript functionary in a fascist bureaucracy. He toils in boredom but finds time for a recurring dream in which he becomes an armor-clad Icarus flying through the clouds, his hair mussed romantically like Lord Byron's.
There's a lovely woman (Kim Greist) beckoning from the blue, her hair cascading like Guinevere's. Sam never quite makes contact, even in his reveries, but one day her look-alike appears in the real world. He pursues her through a landscape of dark, Brave New World satire.
Everything about director Gilliam's future is skewed, and very complicated. In fact, the complexity of life amid totalitarianism is the touchstone joke of "Brazil."
Poor Sam can't even make a call without going through the trials of the damned, just because the telephone is such a technological nightmare. And everywhere you look there's a snaking heat duct, a hilarious but scary symbol for the state's intrusiveness. The government's Central Services wing, which monitors and repairs those heating ducts, is like the CIA in overalls.
The look of "Brazil" can be thrilling, with its panoramas of a weird urban future studded with imaginative details. If baroque can be grim, that's the way to describe this movie.
The downside is that "Brazil" is also a busy mess. Gilliam is original, but he also doesn't know when to say no. There's the feel of an ego out of control. When you're not surprised by the movie, you're jangled by it.
Watch for Robert DeNiro in a small role as a terrorist and rogue electrician, Bob Hoskins in a cameo as one of those snarling Central Service creeps, and fellow Pythoner Michael Palin as a nasty interrogator. Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown helped Gilliam write the screenplay.
What: Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."
When: Friday, Feb. 1, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: UC Irvine's Student Center Emerald Bay Room.
Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south. Go east on Campus Drive to Bridge Road. Take Bridge Road into the campus.
Where to Call: (714) 856-6379.