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Brazil

Even if Roger Ebert didn't like it, Terry Gilliam's film is a celebrated masterpiece of futuristic dystopia and black comedy. Look for the new DVD pressing from Criterion. It's the one to own.

This is really the second shot, following a very short motion shot that flies above the clouds. Let's not be too picky.

We begin with a view of a TV set turning on. The design of the set is retro-futuristic. Brazil's future is not the kind we would realistically imagine now, but the kind the people of the past might have imagined. The emphasis is on fantasy rather than realism, with an additional emphasis on satire in this case. Everything has become bloated, cumbersome, inefficient, intrusive, and downright ugly. That's why the film is such a classic. It reminds people of the real world.

Note how different the approach is from Blade Runner's. Blade Runner found beauty within its dystopia. Brazil sees its own as something ugly. Consider this example: Blade Runner opens with images of tall towers issuing forth bursts of fire. Brazil has a similar image somewhere in the middle. In Blade Runner, the towers are seen as the crowns of mighty industrial plants. Magnificent, splendid. In Brazil, they are seen as ugly and pointless structures that spit fire for no good reason and likely just cause pollution.

The TV turns on. We see the logo of Central Services. The name says it all. All of our utility needs — heating, electricity, plumbing — are being taken care of exclusively by an arm of the government. You'll love their service, because it's the only service you can legally get. Propoganda, totalitarianism. Sieg heil, Central Services.

On comes a smiling man to tell us how Central Services can give our homes fashionable new ducts. But of course, while the new ducts may be a bit more aesthetically pleasing, they're still gaudy and intrusive. The technology in our homes is Central Services' primary concern. The fact that we have to live with it is merely an afterthought. And the same is true of the government, as the film will show.

Pan out to show more of what we're looking at: a window display of TV sets. There are Christmas decorations on top of one set. We can guess what season this is. Christmas has gotten too commercial, and the gifts have gotten pointless. We'll see more of this when all the government workers keep getting executive decision makers; silly little desk toys.

And now we get a full view of the window. More decorations.

And then a dark figure with a shopping cart passes in front of the window. A man with a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat. The cart is full of Christmas presents. The image of the man is a noir archetype, and we get a sense that something sinister may be happening.

Only by moving a frame at a time can we see this special effect: the man explodes into a million pieces.

The shop window explodes with a mass of fire issuing forth.

Someone has decided to fight back against this ugly future and its imposing government with terrorism. Was the man with the cart the terrorist? Did he plant the bomb? Do his Christmas packages conceal bombs? There is, after all, a suspicious Christmas package in a later scene that we are led to think might be a bomb.

Three seconds later, we see the title screen.