My Favourite Christmas Movie: Brazil
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 10:48 by Dan Jolin in Empire States
The thing about setting your movie during Christmas is that it’s hard to make Christmas incidental. As viewers, we can’t quite shake off that perhaps even miniscule tremor of excitement caused by the sight of light-bedecked fir trees or the jingle of sleigh-bells. Either that, or it just makes us groan, tense up and wait for the schmaltz to hit. Even so, some movies’ Yuletide-positioning tends to be overlooked, largely due to the (welcome) fact that they exist in a different genre, rather than the ‘Christmas movie’ genre itself: Die Hard, for example, or Terry Gilliam’s superb dystopian alterno-noir comedy, Brazil.
Which is a shame, in a way, as Christmas and all our instincts concerning anything connected with the holiday give Brazil so much. After an explosion and a mishap with a bug and a typewriter, the film presents a traditional seasonal scene: a family gathered in front of a tree while Mother tells a story of Santa coming down the chimney. With devious glee, Gilliam interrupts this portrait of wintry domestic bliss with a crack squad of faceless government stormtroopers cutting a hole in the ceiling and dropping down through the roof — heralded by sound of sleigh-bells, no less. They’ve even brought a sack: but this one is empty, and they promptly fill it with Daddy and whisk him away on sabotage charges (the result of said bug/typewriter mishap), leaving only his weeping children and traumatised wife with a receipt for the government’s ‘services’. The intention is clear: there’s going to be nothing Merry about this Christmas.
Much of Brazil is an attack on cold, blundering bureaucracy and the politics of paranoia, but Gilliam’s also concerned to some degree with consumerism (a hot Christmas topic, obviously), using the holiday to highlight the true cheapness of material gifts versus the deep value of imagination and love. Our hero, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), wants to attain the girl of his dreams: he’s not interested in the thoughtless trinket his mother (Katharine Helmond)’s bought him (“something for an exec-u-tiiiive!” she trills), or even the promotion she’s irritatingly wrangled. Gilliam compounds his critique of Christmas shallowness with an edge into the grotesque: we hear of medical gift tokens, designed for ageing ladies of leisure like Sam’s mother, desperate for the latest cosmetic-surgery treatment. Later, we see a family friend, Mrs Tremain (Barbara Hicks), wheelchair-bound, hunched and wrapped in stained bandages, the result of “acid treatment” gone awry. Sam finds her during peak Christmas shopping hours in the lingerie department of a department store. Mrs Tremain holds up a lacy pair of knickers and squeaks “Picture me in these!”. Shortly afterwards a bomb goes off, blowing the entire lingerie section into gory smithereens.
Gilliam’s final insult to Christmas comes near the movie’s devastating end. Sam himself has been carried off in one of those sacks, and is due to be interrogated — tortured — for details of his non-existent terrorist connections. Unsurprisingly, Sam is losing his mind. In trundles his long-since-departed father’s oldest friend, Minister of Information Mr Helpmann (Peter Vaughn), dressed as St. Nicholas himself. Movie-cliché logic — bolstered by the presence of a jolly old man dressed in white-trimmed red — dictates that he’s bringing the greatest gift of all: freedom. Instead, Helpmann-Santa offers only the advice that Sam tell them everything he know, and that he should “keep your eye on the ball”, before trotting out a few more sporting metaphors. Then he’s off, to keep his festive appointment with some orphans.
Childish excitement? A deluge of schmaltz? Christmas in Brazil results in neither: simply an affirmation that as much shit happens during the Holiday Season as at any other time in the year. Any movie that tells otherwise is lying.
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Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 15:49
Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 16:48
Great article Dan.
Much as I love Brazil, it's Die Hard and It's A Wonderful Life for me.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 17:38
Sorry, got all excited there for a minute...
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 17:46
Best non-Christmas Christmas movie? It's only the presence of Die Hard and Wonderful life that make it such a tough call!
Brazil is a work of genius and it's heartening to see it recognised as such.
Of course the Die Hard - Brazil connection is composer Michael Kamen, playing around with Christmas sounds (sleigh bells in particular) in both films to terrific effect.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 18:02
Die Hard and Gremlins are all well and good. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will be regarded as THE greatest Christmas film once it's given a few more years to ferment.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 18:07
I guess lethal weapon for me. Christmas depresses me enough without watching Brazil as well; although brilliant film that it is, it's a bit too close to home.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 20:09
Its a tough call between Die Hard and Its a Wonderful Life - but what a great double bill that would be; anyone know anyone at the Prince Charles cinema?!
If I was allowed one schmaltzy film it would have to be Scrooged with Bill Murray.
Frank Cross: I want to see her nipples.
Censor Lady: But this is a CHRISTMAS show.
Frank Cross: Well, I'm sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 20:56
I'm in Camp Die Hard. Not sure why everyone is saying a wonderful life isn't a christmas film.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 21:30
Somewhere out there Donald McKinney is squealing in delight that a Gilliam film has got a mention...
Brazil is awesome, I've never really thought of it as a Christmas film though.
Posted on Thursday December 11, 2008, 22:45
Muppet Christmas Carol is my fave and looking forward to seeing several times in this festive period like I have done for sveral years.
It's great on so many levels.
1.It's really faithful to the book and even has laughs with the tale using Gonzo and Ritzo.
2. Michael Caine is BRILLIANT as Scrooge and Pierce Brosnan should have took a lession or two as Sire Caine can't sing a note but just does it without trying to dsominate and has fun with his numeber with the Ghost of Christmas Present.
3. It's scary -The Ghost of Christmas Future is just un-nerving, unsettling, and just brilliantly well crafted. Sad as well - Scrooge witnessing his lost child and Tiny Tim (little Robin the Frog 'sniff'.
4 Beeker flipping Ebeneezer off - that makes this the best christmas film alone
Long this post I know but I adore this move is easill in my top 10 all together..
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 00:06
Yeah I gotta aggree with Taz69, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the perfect Christmas film. They use the story for great laughs while remaining respectful to the material. They create a genuine feel of warmth and Christmas spirit, but manage some series scariness with the ghosts. And they have the undying legend that is Michael Caine working for them too. Priceless.
Love Brazil, but it's not a Christmas film in spirit. It's a Wonderful Life and Die Hard definitely. Also, does Babe count? I know there's one bit at Christmas, and it's a total masterpiece.
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 01:27
DIIIIIIIEEEEEE HAAAAAARRRRRRD!!! And that's that. Best use of 'Ode To Joy' since 'A Clockwork Orange'. I now have a nagging fear of string quartets thanks to action adventures of the (roughly) 85-96 era. Everytime a string quartet appears onscreen, you know some serious shit's about to go down.
I also an aversion to places that are 'almost finished', thanks to the holy trinity of Nakatomi Plaza, The Death Star and Jurassic Park.
Anyway,a friend and I were recently discussing unorthodox Xmas movies- 'Brazil' and Die Hard' came up, but 'Eyes Wide Shut' and (much of) 'LA Confidential' were also mentioned...any other ideas?
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 03:56
was brasil set at christmas? ha
must break out the dvd
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 09:18
Like most, I think Die Hard is awesome, especially around Christmas. Also got to love Gremlins, Scrooged and A Nightmare Before Christmas. Also, none Christmassy films I like to watch around Christmas are Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. I think I'm in love with Bill Murray around Christmas for some reason.
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 11:03
Depends on your mood - if I want actual Christmas cheer, then it's Jimmy Stewart all the way, or possible Fozzy Bear if there's people who won't watch anything in black and white (sadly, my family contains quite a few of these). If I want an antidote, Die Hard all the way. 'Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.' Awesome.
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 13:19
Of course, Brazil! Great pic for best Christmas movie... Does the Great Escape Count as a Christmas movie these days?
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 13:36
I'm sure some more obscure ones will be dug up but for now I offer the following for your consideration:
The Long Kiss Goodnight - almost entirely snowbound, starts with Geena Davis as Mrs Claus and (sort of) ends with a Christmas-light festooned bridge exploding.
Lethal Weapon - set entirely during Christmas and even bookended with two classic crimbo tunes.
Trading Places - it's only once Winthorpe pops pills after a failed brain blow-out and dog-pee leg-soaking (all dressed as a salmon-scented Santa) does the film shift from Christmas to New Year.
Love Actually veers wildly into schmaltz territory but does have a yuletide setting.
LA Confidential certainly starts during Christmas...
Did see mention of The Lion In Winter too, though i've yet to watch it.
For my money the two best 'very-much-involving-Christmas-but-not-at-all-Christmassy-films' would be Gremlins (most depressing story about santa - ever) and Die Hard ("Haven't you got any Christmas music?" "This IIIIIS Christmas music!")
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 15:11
Gremilins ( Love how gremlins just spoil it for everyone! classic)
National lampoons Christmas Vacation (chevy chase at his best, The squirel scene is amazing!)
Scrooged (bill murray...simple as that)
home alone (i still wish pesci would catch the little shit and put his head in vice though)
Posted on Friday December 12, 2008, 17:08
Just seeing this post back and it like Yoda had a stoke I do apologise.
Muppet Christmas Carol will always be my fave and it truly is a masterpiece in adaption of a classic, great musical, and a family that everyone will love. Beaker doesn't flip Michael Caine off (seen the scene again on Youtube) - they have one less finger than us humans so he's just pointing to add a point before Ebeneezer slams the door on them. It's a great movie myth (like Bogart saying 'Play it again Sam' etc).
Die Hard is also grea, as is Gremlins. It's a Wondserful Life is good but over-rated, Home Alone is very entartaining, Brasil may be a classic and set during Christmas but it is not a Christmas movie, National Lampoons Christmas Caper is more Christmassy thab Brasil.
Posted on Saturday December 13, 2008, 00:22
Having earlier announced my vote in favour of Bruce Willis's vest I'd like to change my vote.
Batman returns. The best, pre-begins, batman. Michelle Pfipher as Catwoman is HOT.
Posted on Saturday December 13, 2008, 04:02
Posted on Saturday December 13, 2008, 12:49
Easy: Batman Returns. Loved it since I was a child, and while The Dark Knight is the better film I still get the most emotional whenever I see Burton's second bat. It might not be jolly, but it's beautiful.
But it's not just atmosphere and gorgeous production design, it's also the fantastic performances from all the leads which make Returns a Christmas tradition at my home. Whatever happened to Michael Keaton's career? Was it the Christmas Spirit that cursed him because of Jack Frost?
This is also the time of year when I put my CD of the Batman Returns soundtrack into the CD player on a regular basis. One of the best soundtracks ever? Oooh yeah! Hans Zimmer can heat is heart out (with all due respect to the very talented sound engineer who created the Joker sound on his behalf).
Posted on Sunday December 14, 2008, 13:37
The best Christmas films are Die Hard and Babe. Simple as that. Now move along.
Posted on Sunday December 14, 2008, 14:42
Definitely Muppets Christmas Carol. Rizzo kisses Gonzo on the nose (/beak/whatever) and it's the greatest and happiest christmas moment of all time.
Dark Flower Rose
Posted on Sunday December 14, 2008, 20:22
Terrific article! I’m bias because Brazil is easily my favourite film of all time let alone my favourite Christmas film. I had to watch it a few days ago just to calm me down after a few hours Christmas shopping. It’s still as relevant as ever. Those storm trooper sleigh-bells are so chilling.
I do have to admit though that Muppet Christmas Carol is also a favourite Christmas film of mine. Muppets, Music, and Michael Caine as Scrooge? What’s not to like?
Posted on Monday December 15, 2008, 15:50
In Bruges. Two manky hookers and racist dwarf, isn't that what Christmas is really all about.
Posted on Tuesday December 16, 2008, 10:36
Firstly I need to state that I am NOT a chick flick kinda gal but there is something about 'While You Were Sleeping' that always makes me feel Christmassy. I first saw it at Christmas and it has become a bit of a yearly tradition now. That, The Muppets and Jimmy Stewart make the time of year that extra bit more special!
Posted on Wednesday December 17, 2008, 09:55
Muppets and Michael Caine for me... all together now:
'... There goes Mr. Humbug, there goes mister grim - If they gave a prize for bein' mean, the winner would be him!'
Posted on Monday January 12, 2009, 14:44
Thank you very much for the great information.