RetroReviews #54: Brazil: The “Love Conquers All” Version (1985)

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JULY 12, 2013 SCREENING: BRAZIL – LOVE CONQUERS ALL (1985)

Last but not least is a brief look at “Brazil: The ‘Love Conquers All” Version. This special re-cut of the movie was never released commercially, but comes as an extra on the 3-disc Criterion DVD release of the movie, and is an interesting little curiosity for fans of Gilliam’s work to check out.

The story behind the “Love Conquers All” version is quite simple. The theatrical version of Gilliam’s movie runs 142 mins., and that made it a pain to book for theatrical distribution. Like all Gilliam movies, the film is very surreal and has a depressing, downbeat ending. As a result, American movie studios wanted to re-cut the movie into a much leaner mainstream movie running only 94 mins. This was done without any of Gilliam’s input or consent, and not surprisingly, he hated it. The whole project turned out to be a non-issue, however, since Gilliam fought against the 94 min. version, and the 142 min. version on DVD, as well as the one that had been released to theaters, is Gilliam’s original “vision” for the film, whereas the re-cut version was never released commercially, and only appeared on television and in its intended form as an extra on the Criterion DVD.

Naturally the film corrupts Gilliam’s “vision” for Brazil, but going into the 94 min. version, I felt the DVD itself was biased towards the film, as well as every tidbit of information I could find about this cut online. They all conveyed one idea: this re-cut was an abomination, and should only be seen as a textbook example of how NOT to edit a movie, as it complete destroys the integrity of Gilliam’s masterpiece In other words, we the audience should completely hate and despise the re-cut.

I watched the re-cut in its entirety, and I did it with the audio commentary on from a film historian who was there to “explain” all the major changes to the film (he also conveyed the idea that I should hate the re-cut). The subtitle of the movie wasn’t originally part of the 94 min. cut. Rather, the film is dubbed “Love Conquers All” because once the re-cut was made public, it was clear the studio’s intent was for the film’s message to be that “love conquers all”, and this leads to the much despised happy ending.

So did I hate the re-cut? No. In fact, despite running over 40 minutes shorter, I really didn’t think it “butchered” the original movie at all. Some subplots were removed and some characters and situations changed around, but 80% of the major events in the original movie were more so less unchanged, and Brazil itself doesn’t really have any type of direct narrative structure anyway, its more of a character study, and it retains that in both the original and the “love conquers all” version. The intent is definitely changed with the ending, but its not really a “new” ending at all – the scene was shown in the original film at the end as well, though in a slightly different cut and it was presented a dream sequence, whereas its real life in the “love conquers all” version. Essentially, the ending is only different because the re-cut removes the final scene that reveals the earlier scene where the couple happily drove away  was a dream.

To give the high brow critics their due, however, I must admit the re-cut is clearly a weaker movie than the full 142 min. version. It’s simpler and easier to follow, which is a positive, but a lot of quirky moments from the original are lost, and the pure strangeness and surreal quality of the original kicked it up a notch over this version. Disastrous and horrible, no, but it’s definitely watered down. Since there’s not much of a story to begin with, telling that story more directly doesn’t really help things. If you’re going to watch Brazil, watch the uncut version. But honestly, neither version of the movie struck me as particularly great, or particularly terrible.

** out of ****

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