A truly beautiful country, located in South America, bordering all countries on that continent except Ecuador and Chile. Known for its soccer, samba, and the Amazon Forest. Rio de Janeiro, or simply Rio, is known for its beaches full of beautiful people. Sao Paulo is the country's most populous city; Brasilia is its ultra-modern capital.

The movie 'Brazil' was written and directed by the rather wonderful Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame). It deals with a futuristic nightmare world (a little like a cross between George Orwell's 1984 and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner) with unique and ghastly humour.
It's in my personal top 5 movies of all time, nestled next to the works of the magnificent Coen Brothers and possibly Apocalypse Now.
Terry Gilliam later made The Fisher King, starring the highly bankable Robin Williams, which seemed to me to be a more commercialised remake of the style of Brazil.

Another noteworthy aspect of this uber stylish film is that it has been massively plundered by advertising creatives (see oxymoron).
During the late eighties and early nineties (in Britain at least), I remember seeing at least five different TV commercials that were direct and blatent copies of scenes from this movie.
One example that springs to mind is the brilliant scene where Harry Tuttle (the freedom fighter played by Robert De Niro) is finally killed by the state, being smothered and then absorbed by flying litter (it's hard to describe - just see the movie!), which was ripped off by Barclays, a British bank.

This film is an absolute, cast-iron MUST SEE

The song that started it all (except for maybe the country) is entitled 'Aquarela do Brasil' (which Babelfish tells me means 'Watercolor of Brazil' in Portuguese, and is also the title of a mini-telenovela, according to adamk) and was written by Ary Barroso (I've also seen the title spelt in numerous sources as "Acuarela de Brasil", the Spanish translation, or some mutation thereof). Though versions vary, here are the most widely accepted words to the most important song ever.

(thanks to CodeMaster and e-anorexia for the title and language correction)

Where hearts were entertaining June
We stood beneath an amber moon
And softly murmured,
"Someday soon."

We kissed
And clung together

Tomorrow was another day
The morning found us miles away
With still a million things to say

When twilight dims the skies above
Recalling thrills of our love
There's one thing that I'm certain of:
Return I will to old Brazil.

There you have it, folks. Hope, desperation, love, and redemption, all in a simple, beautiful little song. Some of the finest artists in the world (and, admittedly, some mediocre ones as well) have honored this song's simple complexity. They just don't write 'em like this anymore. I've heard this song in a variety of styles, from shoegazer to techno to disco to the more traditional jazz or samba versions.

Brazil (the movie) is named after the song, and has many thematic parallels with the tune, chiefly notable in how the score is constructed (most of the music in the film is a reinterpretation of the base melody of 'Brazil' through different instruments or moods). Besides, 'Brazil' makes a better title than the original 'Ministry of Terror'.

Also, as a service to the wide world of consumer nations out there, a review of the Criterion DVD set:

Brazil - 1985 (DVD version release: 1999) - Director: the indefatigable Terry Gilliam

Running Time: 142 minutes. Color. Not Rated.

A three DVD set, of which the Special Features include:

Dolby Digital surround sound, 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Brazil is my favorite movie, and this amazing set from Criterion fully demonstrates the power and necessity of this film. The production disc is enveloping, providing some cool facts about the film (it was originally entitled "Ministry of Terror") and some nifty footage of unused special effects, like a city of eyeballs.

The film itself is, of course, awe-inducing. A faithful transfer provides Gilliam's vision with ferocious clarity.

On the morbid curiosity end of the spectrum, a butchered, made for TV version is also included. This abomination cuts forty-eight minutes from the definitive version of the film, attempting to dumb down the work into a greyish paste fit for mass consumption. Thankfully, it flubbed.

This collection sets the standards for DVD releases. Brazil has its detractors, but it's hard not to be impressed by this set.

Back to DVD Reviews...

I feel a separate write up must be included here for the national soccer team of Brazil. Yellow jersey, blue shorts, white socks. For some of us who spent the best part of our childhood attempting to kick a bit of pigskin between two markers, the word "Brazil" instantly conjures up an ineffable mixture of meaning and emotion. The national side is emblematic of beauty, truth, all that good stuff. It is skill. It is Art. It is impossibly gifted young men - too cool to even have surnames - making oranges dance in the air for infinity on slum streetcorners with the merest flicks of foot, heel, instep, outstep, so that the fruit seems to become the great globe itself, and the footballer the ultimate conjurer and artist, the laughing God, making it all happen. These same young men were to don the famous yellow and strut their stuff against the best the rest of the word could offer.
Dance, feign, create!

Consider Barnsley FC. This small club representing the windswept, rainy town of Barnsley spent a historic, solitary season (1997/1998) at the bottom of England's Premiership league before being duly booted back down to a lower division. The euphoria of their fans, however, was inextinguishable throughout. And what did they sing at matches? "It's just like watching Brazil! BRAA-ZIL!"

For some of us, Brazil expresses something about our yearning for the higher things, like oneness with God, or Final Cut Pro. They give the lie to the grinding efficiency of a team like West Germany, whose successes only served to poison us with begrudgery. The Brazilians are exotic. The Brazilians are from South America. In a word, the Brazilians are about flair.

'Brazil' is a rolecall of the Impossibly Cool. They were called Zico and Garrincha. They were called Socrates. (Socrates!) They were called Jairzinho. And, of course, they were simply called Pelé, like a bell ringing inside your soul.

The 1970 World Cup encapsulates all that mythos. I wasn't born in 1970; I know the tournament only through television footage after the fact, which is itself electrifying enough. This was the first World Cup in colour: for those watching on TV at the time, it must have seemed like footballing aliens from the planet Genius had landed among them. Watch the yellow and blue blazing across the green as the sun empathetically blazes down like God's own spotlight. See the haze surrounding pitch enfog the opposition. Observe the Brazilian team themselves shimmering brilliantly, doing things with a ball that should be impossible at the highest level of the game. Certainly, those things were impossible in the Green beside where I lived, as numerous attempts at lobbing the 'keeper, dummying the 'keeper, and pushing the ball into empty space in the anticipation of a blistering strike at goal, will all attest.

That last one... ah, yes. The Alberto Goal.

The television pictures show Pelé moving towards the opposition's box. The defenders back away and back away. In the parlance, they stand off him. They know how good he his. You know how good he is. The man born Edson Arantes do Nascimento is moving now more and more towards the centre of the pitch. He'll take them on! He'll beat them! He'll shoot from where he's standing! The backs can stand off no longer, they begin to try to hold their ground, tense. The tackle it is their profession to time will surely come soon.

Still, Pelé is under no real pressure when suddenly, inexplicably, and (I swear it!) without even a glance, Pelé pushes the ball out to his right with the outside of his right boot. Into. Completely. Empty. Space. There is no one there. Time slows down, as if to account for the befuddled workings of your own brain. What?? Why did?? The attack is going to fizzle out like this? Alberto. Fast. Like a bullet. He comes from nowhere: screams gloriously into the frame and with his first touch sends the ball like death and taxes into the net.

You'll never see anything like it. Brazil.


In the aftermath, you'll laugh, because we always laugh at recognition of supertruth, that sneaks up and blindsides us beautifully.


Shots of football magic from '70. On the soundtrack, Primal Scream play Slip Inside This House.
Deranged samba. Individual instruments groove and mesh around each other; once a bar, on a loop, is an exclamation and a laugh. The last shot is in slow-mo, the last sample says, "We blew their minds." True? Or did I dream it?


Of course, everything changes. Brazil don't always play like poets of the game. They are capable of cynicism; they have, for instance, played for penalties on occasion. Unthinkably, they may not even qualify for Japan/Korea 2002. In any case, there is a move afoot to have the club game surpass the national in importance, where the teams are assembled not by accident of birth, but rather purchased with big money, and sent out to make it back. Even my idolatry was already something of an inheritance, but kids today are more likely to follow the individual footballers at the top of the money market: Rivaldo, the uni-monikered Brazilian, yes - but also Del Piero, Figo, Beckham, and (the admittedly cool) Zinedine Zidane. Still, it is hard to envisage a club competition ever inducing the same mass mania in its supporters as does the World Cup.

I have a friend... Bill. Bill and I talk about football: identity, class, childhood, social shortcuts, the relationship of son and father, even. Sometimes just football. We both love Brazil. During Italia '90, Bill announced that he had discovered why Brazil played the best football. It was because they had the whitest socks. But why, Bill, do they have the whitest socks? Because beautiful Brazilian girls wash them for them. And why, Bill, (thisdayandageGoddamn&etc.) would these girls do such a thing? Simple. Because Brazil play the best football.

It does not always pay to argue with Bill. Besides, when the camera pans to the crowd when Brazil are playing, there are indeed always women of surpassing beauty, minimally decked out in those colours of which I am already so fond.

Just call me Haru.

UPDATE: Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, beating Germany in the final and playing insanely attacking football.

Multiple Winners of The World Cup:

Brazil             5          (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Italy              4          (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) 
W. Germany         3          (1954, 1974, 1990)
Argentina          2          (1978, 1986)
Uruguay            2          (1930, 1950)


What the books can tell you:

When the Portuguese nobleman Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived at a stunning tropical beach on April 22, 1500, he had no way of knowing that this would be the birth of is the biggest country in Latin America: Brazil. Covering 47,3% of the South American continent, Brazil (or, as we natives call it, Brasil) is also the fifth largest country in the world. A quick look on a world map can tell you that Brazil has borders with 10 countries and 7367 kilometers of coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

In 500 years of history, this relatively new country has known as many troubles and woes as there are beauties in it. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation of Latin America, and was a Portuguese colony from 1500 until September 7, 1822. Brazil had several names before the current one, from native names to catholic references. The modern name is derived from a local tree, Pau-Brasil, found close to the shores and vastly used in Europe to give it's red-ish and purple-ish coulour to sophisticated fabrics.

Brazil's names:

Pindorama (native name)
Vera Cruz's Island (1500)
New Land (1501)
Parrot's Land (1501)
Vera Cruz's Land (1503)
Holy Cross' Land (1503)
Holy Cross of Brazil's Land (1505)
Brasil Land (1505)
Brasil (since 1527)

Portugal came to own Brazil after the famous Tordesilhas Treaty with Spain, when both countries - the then equivalents of superpowers - drew an imaginary line on the atlas and divided the lands of the world. This was signed on 1494, when people had no clue as to what was yet to be found on the west side of the Atlantic.

The first colonial period was very much unregulated, with pirates and rogues of all nations coming to Brazil's shores to collect natural treasures or simply to hide and reload their ships. The French even begun to settle on the southeastern shores (the place where you can find Rio de Janeiro nowadays), but were soon driven away by the Portuguese, who began to realize just how lucrative Brazil would become. Pau-Brasil, sugarcane, gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones were found during the next centuries, when the colonizators began to venture father away from the shores. At first, the Portuguese tried to enslave the natives (also called "Indians", as the first sailors believed to be in the West Indies, an understandable mistake). This did not work, for the natives died too easily with the work-load and white-men-diseases. A common cold could kill hundreds natives, who did not have the proper body defenses against such illnesses.

To solve the labour problem, Portugal brought black slaves from the African colonies and joined the world-wide slave market, to increase the sugar production on the sugarcane plantations and processing factories located on the eastern part of the country - the only known territory at the time. Some slaves managed to runaway, but most lived and died on the most dreadful conditions. It was not uncommon either to find mixed-blood slaves, sons and daughters of the white owners who took black mistresses, very often by force. The mixture would increase with the centuries and also incorporate native elements, creating the "mulatos", with light or dark brown skin and mixed facial features.

Colonial Brazil suffered many attempts of invasions, but the longest and most succesful was the Dutch one. They settled in the northeast shores, specifically on the cities of Recife and Natal, and stayed from 1633 to 1654, after several exploration expeditions on the area. The Dutch were led by Maurice of Nassau, who made alliances with the natives against the Portuguese. The Dutch distinguished themselves by treating the local people (either pure natives or mixed-bloods) with a respect lacking in all the people's dealings with the Portuguese, thus conquering their hearts. The Dutch rule was also completly different from the Portuguese Monarchy and tried to establish local associations of tradesmen and workers. The Dutch were expelled by the Portuguese in 1564, after several battles between the two European representatives and their local allies.

In 1808, Brazil's history took an important turn with the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family. The nobles were fleeing Napoleon's troops. Portugal was invaded because it was an important ally of England, having much business (and debts) with the british. It was so that Brazil stopped being simply a colony and became part of the Realm, thus having permission to receive foreign goods, have direct interaction with the world and having stimulation to develop it's cities and people. The Royal court was set up in Rio de Janeiro, the new (and second) capital of the country. The Portuguese had a nice time in Rio while Europe suffered with widespread war and the white brazilians took the opportunity to become more polished and "civilised". Politics was no longer a topic that resulted in a death sentence and new ideas, like abolitionism, became popular with the young fashionable elite.

The fall of Napoleon and a coup-d'etat on the Portuguese government would force Dom João VI – then king of Portugal and Brazil and very unwilling to return home – to go back to Europe and secure his place. He left, however, his eldest son and heir, Dom Pedro I, in Rio. It was the seed to Independence, as Dom Pedro was loved by the Brazilians and was soon persuaded to forsake Portugal and declare himself Emperor of Brazil, on September 7, 1822. This proved to be a smart move on his side, as he reign in Brazil for several years, married a Hapsburg princess, have hundreds of love affairs and left his infant son to reign when the Portuguese throne was vacant. Thus, even though Brazil was officially independent, Portugal's interests were very much secure and looked after.

Dom Pedro II reigned for several decades and was a very aloof and conservative emperor. He declared his love for the country several times, but worked hard to supress industrial development in Brazil, as well as contracting several large debts with England on behalf of the country. His rule ended with the Republic, on November 15, 1899. Originally a military coup, the Proclamation of the Republic initiated Brazil's most turbulent chapters of history, with manipulated elections, the coffee years, military dictators, billion-dollar debts to the IMF and a new capital: Brasilia.

What the books can't tell you:

Brazil is one of the most beautiful and potentially rich corners of the world. We do not have earthquakes, nor other natural disasters (apart from a localized draught on the notheastern region and occasional floods in large cities). Brazil is the home of the biggest chunk of the Amazon forest and used to be the home of other forests just as interesting, rich and beautiful, like the Atlantic forests, now almost extinct.

The country is famous for it's parties, food and beaches, being a favorite holiday spot for european and american tourists. You can find descendants of Japanese, German, Italian, Arab, African, Portuguese, Spanish and Native people, thus creating a population with a wide range of looks, hair and skin colours. Religion is also very diversified and even mixed by the inhabitants, but Catholic Roman Church is still the strongest. Some African religions were disguised as Catholic belief during the slavery centuries, as slaves were forced to adopt the European religion. They manage to keep their beliefs alive by giving saints' names for the African gods. Brazil is also famous for it's lack of organization and seriousness, at once reason for shame and pride to it's inhabitants. It's also very hot around here.

Living in Brazil, however, is not an easy task. Most part of the 170 million brazilians are living in extreme poverty or crowded around the big southern cities. It's hard to find a job, nearly impossible to find one that pays well, hard to find a nice place to live and hard to avoid being mugged on the streets. Violence and drug traffic are open wounds. The list of problems is endless and sometimes it seems there's just to reason to hope. Even so, we live on, enjoying what we can, making mistakes, and believing everything will be alright in the end. Some think we're lazy, some think we're smart.

For hard numbers, go to the CIA World Factbook - Brazil.
For more info, go to:
Brazilian Portuguese
Rio de Janeiro
Getúlio Vargas
The Everything People Registry: Brazil
MAIA, G. (1998). A invasão holandesa no Rio Grande (resumo). História do RN n@ WEB On-line. Available from World Wide Web:

Brazil is the largest country in the South American continent, with an area of 8,511,965 sq km. The country's capital is Brasilia, and other important cities include Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The Amazon rainforest covers the northern half of the country, and Brazil has large uranium reserves. It also benefits from hydroelectric power in the form of the Itaipu and Tucurin dams.

Brazilian history

Brazil was first settled around 8000 BC, and European explorers from Spain and Portugal arrived in 1500. The new territories,known as Vera Cruz (True Cross), had been allocated to Portugal by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

Jesuits from Sao Paulo began converting the indigenous natives to Christianity in 1554. The country's mineral wealth became apparent when gold was discovered in 1694 and 1718, and diamonds in 1699. Native Indians were used as slaves in the mines.

Spanish claims to Brazil were ended by treaty in 1777, and Spain was given lands in Uruguay. The Portuguese King John VI came to Rio in 1808 when Portugal was occupied by Napoleonic troops. In 1815 Brazil became a kingdom associated to Portugal, and in 1820 John VI's son Dom Pedro became regent. He became emperor of Brazil in 1822 when he accepted Brazil's proclamation of independence. His son, Pedro II, helped expand Brazil's economy and coffee trade, granting universal suffrage and abolishing slavery. The authoritarian style of Pedro II proved to be his downfall, however, and a military-led revolution led to the proclamation of a republic in 1889.

Twentieth-century Brazil

The new constitution of 1891 established Brazil as a secular, federal, and democratic state. The country's entry into World War I in 1914 on the side of the Allies bolstered its production of wheat and rubber, making it a powerful force in Latin America. Production of rubber by south-east Asian countries, the world economic crisis of 1929, and falling coffee prices in 1930 led to recession and dictatorship under Getulio Vargas. Vargas committed suicide in 1954.

A new capital was officially founded at Brasilia in 1960, and in 1964 the military took control. Political parties were suppressed in favour of ARENA (National Renewal Alliance), the official party. Free elections did not return until 1982. Universal suffrage continued to be suppressed by the military. Democracy was eventually restored by Jose Sarney in 1988. In 1989 Fernando Collor was elected president, but he was accused of corruption in 1992 and 1993, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president in 1994.

Chronicle of the World, Jacques Legrand SA International Publishing, 1989
Hutchinson Encyclopedia, 1997 ed., Helicon Publishing, 1996

This concludes my brief history of Brazil. The following e2 nodes may also prove useful:

It seems that there are people on Earth - even in Britain! - who still haven't seen Brazil. A while back I actually met some Britons in their early twenties who had never heard of it. This troubles me greatly.

Terry Gilliam's 1985 dystopian classic is beautifully realised, often hilarious and utterly horrifying, not least because it has turned out to be so prophetic.

Fundamentally - and very coherently - this is a film about systems breaking down: A dead fly drops into a printer, causing a misprint which leads to a man's mistaken death by torture; heating systems break down, and cannot be repaired because the Central Repairs support system is overstretched; the ubiquitous, massively complex systems of machines, presumably designed to make life easier, invariably go wrong when one or another link breaks down.

It is also a film about systems breaking down humanity. With everyone having their own tightly defined role in the overarching bureaucratic systems that control everything, nobody has to take personal responsibility for anything else; mistakes are almost always somebody else's problem, and nobody really feels they have the power to change anything. Throughout the film it's therefore difficult to pin much of the blame for any of the things that go wrong on any particular person. Even the head torturer (Michael Palin) gives the impression that he's only getting on with his job, the same as anyone.

Almost all of the action of the film is driven by people struggling against these systems of control, whether by fighting back or (more usually) working around them. Our main protagonist, the affable dreamer Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), is bent on using his access to the Ministry of Information to find out more about the woman he thinks he loves, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), a quest which is complicated by the fact that she is considered an enemy of the state thanks to her efforts to find out what happened to her neighbour, the unfortunate victim of a clerical error. The closest thing we have to a hero in this story is Harry Tuttle, a renegade heating engineer played with much panache and very little restraint by Robert De Niro.

This was Gilliam's third non-Python feature, after Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, and it maintains many of the comedy tropes of his earlier work. Although it is hugely over the top, with much of the melodrama played for laughs, the comedy aspects largely just add to the unease of it. This is a world gone utterly mad, but it nevertheless seems disquietingly plausible: The built-in unreality means it makes that much more sense when we find a cheerfully absorbed secretary typing up transcripts of hideous torture sounds, or we witness negotiations for a payment plan to cover the cost of someone's own 'interrogation'. How far are we from that sort of world right now? How much closer than we were when Brazil was made? For my money this is more disturbing than any film I've seen marketed as a horror.

The story is interspersed with dream sequences, and next to the profound oddness of the reality they interrupt, it ends up increasingly unclear where one ends and the other begins. The dream sequences themselves are gorgeous and unsettling, even if their allegorical relation to the rest of the film veers between brutally unsubtle and rather obscure. Our protagonist flies on Icarus-like wings through fields of billowing clouds, over grim, haunted concrete landscapes, towards his dream woman. As the world throws maddening obstacles in his way, from eruptions of tower blocks to a huge robotic samurai, our dream-Sam valiantly fights his way through them, only to be thwarted again and again. It is in these dream sequences that it becomes most obvious this is a Gilliam film - everything about them could have come straight out of one of his animated Monty Python sequences, rendered with real actors, puppets and the best special effects that 1985 had to offer.

The aesthetic of the real-world part of the film is equally striking. Costumes and sets place it some time around the 1930s, with technology perhaps extrapolated from that period in subtly different directions from the ones it actually took. Computer screens are tiny, unsheathed cathode ray tubes with great Fresnel lenses hung in front of them for magnification. Documents are shot from place to place using tubes. Indeed tubes of various sorts are a major motif of the film, prominent ducts snaking across the oppressive monolithic architecture in almost every shot, a visual metaphor for the tangled, high-pressure systems everyone is pushed through.

Brazil is obviously a satire, but it also belongs to the tradition of visionary dystopian science fiction. Gilliam's targets are trends which he must have been dismayed to see not just continued but greatly strengthened in the decades since. His conception of humanity's descent into inhumanity has so far proven much closer to the bone than such obvious inspirations as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and right now there is little sign of us making any major collective effort to get off this course.

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