Bureaucracy on film is a subject that, for obvious reasons, has always been best approached by filmmakers working under authoritarian governments, specifically in Eastern European countries in the middle of the last century. But with 1985’sBrazil, Terry Gilliam reminded us that bureaucracy is as commonplace in the democratic West as it is anywhere else. Of course, he’s not aiming for realism. This is a nightmare vision of a kind of future fascism that rules with consent and compliance from the population. Each interaction must be accompanied by the correct paperwork. Even a woman whose husband was mistakenly killed by the state is asked to sign a receipt afterwards before being told she can request a form if she wants to file a complaint.
Gilliam’s horror show is very much a capitalist nightmare, although its world’s evils are rooted in the reality we recognise around us. And despite now being 30-years-old, its impact and observations are more relevant now than they were then. From the first frame of the film, as a TV advert bumbles away in a shop window (even the medium carrying the advert is an advert), it’s made clear that this is not simply an allegory for the communist governments that still hadn’t yet fallen in 1985.