Lost in La Mancha

A candid behind-the-scenes documentary in the tradition of Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreamsoexcept that in the case of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, the films did finally get made. Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote enjoyed only six days of filming before a series of unforeseen calamities brought it to its knees. Freak flash floods swept away expensive sets and camera equipment; the film’s leading man, Jean Rochefort, suddenly became ill; and the film’s insurers issued Kafkaesque denials of responsibility.
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s traditional making of documentary therefore became a candid account of the project’s unravelling. Gilliam’s ambitious, $32 million, European-funded adaptation of Cervantes’ immortal tale about a romantic dreamer raging against the forces of rationality was laden with uncanny parallels. As executive producer Bernard Bouix pithily puts it: ‘The battle of Don Quixote is a battle against reality. And I think filmmaking is a battle against reality. But in this case, reality is stronger than the dream.’
Fitted with a wireless microphone throughout, Gilliam encouraged the documentary crew at every turn, saying without bitterness: ‘Someone’s got to get a film out of all this mess, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be me. So it had better be you. Keep shooting! And as Gilliam follows in the footsteps of that other iconoclastic maverick, Orson Welles, footage shot after the event offers tantalising glimpses of what might have been. The heartbreaking scene in which the exhausted, defeated Gilliam watches a few precious minutes of salvaged footage eloquently sums up the painful vagaries of passionate, personal filmmaking.
U.K., 2002. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 89 mins.

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