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  Lost in La Mancha If It Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong
Year: 2002
Director: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Stars: Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges, Jean Rochefort, Tony Grisoni, Philip A. Patterson, Rene Cleitman, Nicola Pecorini, Jose Luis Escolar, Barbara Perez-Solero, Benjamin Fernandez, Andrea Calderwood, Ray Cooper, Gabriella Pescucci
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Film director Terry Gilliam had been trying to get a film of the Don Quixote story off the ground since the early nineteen-nineties, but come the turn of the new millennium, it appeared he would finally get his wish. The cast he wanted, with veteran French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Hollywood star Johnny Depp as his time-travelling companion Sancho Panza, were secured and the locations in Spain were found as the investors guaranteed one of the biggest budgets ever for an independent European film. It all seemed to be going well, but what should have had solid foundations... just did not.

It's difficult to see where the production first goes wrong on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe give us ample opportunity to find out, delivering in painstaking detail a forensic examination of how horribly wrong the filmmaking process can go. But although we did not know it in 2002, when this documentary was released, there would be a happy ending to the story as these directors reunited with Gilliam to record his second attempt at staging the project, one which was successful. However, it is a sad film in its way just as Lost in La Mancha was, simply for different reasons.

In the second documentary, we meet Gilliam as a man nearing his eighties, with the testy nature of the grumpy old man. He does not appear to enjoy one bit of the creative process anymore, he is purely performing as a compulsion, tilting at his windmills much as Quixote did, and though he slays the monsters in 2017, he simply does not have the same joie de vivre at rising to the challenges as he did in the first documentary. There's a lot that's belligerent in his bullish determination, constantly losing his temper, which we only see him do occasionally here. And then there's the small factor of the result.

Did you see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote when it was finally disentangled from its legal issues in 2018? Chances are you did not, indeed chances are you were unaware it had ever been completed, albeit without Rochefort and Depp (Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver were their replacements), as while there were some ripples in the press once it had been realised, the reaction was muted and most who actually did watch it were of the opinion it was fine, but nowhere near the masterpiece that had been envisioned in Gilliam's head. Perhaps that's why he was so angry while filming it. Which brought us to the 2002 effort which included what little footage there was of the initial version, and that did look intriguing, but too paltry to judge if it would have been better.

Although Gilliam remains commendably upbeat until the hammer begins to fall, and although there were claims that the doc was a classic of real-life tragicomedy, it really isn't funny to see everyone's dreams fall apart so badly. It's like a curse has hit the enterprise, the Murphy's Law has been applied and damned the hard work everyone puts in, and as the location shoot is blighted with NATO aerial manoeuvres, and Rochefort - whose presence is crucial to the insurance - struggles with a herniated disc, various other drawbacks niggle at the crew until the whole thing collapses under its own weight. You could observe that Gilliam aimed too high with the resources he had, supporting the view of him as a wayward talent who doesn't know when to stop, but really, a director running the tightest ship imaginable would be challenged to get anything out of the circumstances here. One of the most painful films about moviemaking ever made. Music by Miriam Cutler.

[Blue Finch Film Releasing presents the 20th anniversary release of Lost in La Mancha in cinemas and on digital 15 April 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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