Terry Gilliam endured three decades of "ups and downs" to realize his dream adaptation of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Following its Cannes debut, the film that couldn't be made is finally hitting cinemas across Europe.
By far the most exciting thing about the film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which opens today in theaters across Germany and different European countries, is its epic production history that began in 1989. But Terry Gilliam's film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is ultimately a disappointment — at least artistically.
After 29 years of development, endless shoots, prolonged interruptions, completely new casts, and fall outs with various producers, the film is, however, finally hitting the big screen. That's the good news.
Daring to dream
Gilliam's decades-long journey to make a film that was doomed to never make it to the cinema was already immortalized in Lost in La Mancha, a 2002 documentary that poked fun at the director's failing attempt to get his pet project off the ground. But 16 years later, it can be said that the documentary's directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe spoke too soon, with the revered director of Brazil and 12 Monkeys doggedly completing the film he always believed would be made.
"I just kept going on and on," he told the Guardian before its Cannes premiere in May. "I've never been able to explain why I was so determined, obsessed to make it. After a point I realized that if you're going to do Quixote you've got to become Quixote. You've got to have ups and downs."
Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), circa 1600. 'Don Quixote' is considered his greatest work and was published in 1605 and 1615
The British-American writer, actor, animator and director who rose to fame with the Monty Python troupe in the 1970s had long had a dream to bring the great 17th century adventure novel, Don Quixote, to celluloid. In the year 2000, financing had been approved and filming began. But soon the budget ran out. Moreover, lead actor Jean Rochefort fell seriously ill. The project had to be stopped.
Disasters, dramas and financing problems
Gilliam's struggles to realize his passion project, which also featured then-star Johnny Depp, were soon laid bare in the docudrama Lost in La Mancha. But Gilliam didn't give up. A few years later he made another attempt, now with new cast members Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor. But again the filming was abandoned, largely because the locations were devastated by storms.
But two years ago, and after eight failed attempts, Gilliam managed to shoot the whole film. Again there were new actors, and this time a completely reworked story and new producer — with whom Gilliam again fell out with.
The final version is the story of a smug advertising director, Toby (Adam Driver), who is is confronted with his past when he is given the chance to direct a high-budget feature about Don Quixote in Spain. Ten years before, Toby was an idealistic young filmmaker who nearby filmed a black-and-white, neorealist version of the story of the sad knight. As the director starts to revisit his former passion project, he himself assumes Don Quixote's alter ego.
A triumph — of sorts
Perhaps the decades of work have simply strained the nerves of all those involved in the project: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote seems overloaded and overambitious with its interlaced narrative construction. The main plot, an attempt to mirror Gilliam's own production failures, hardly grabs the audience — which might explain why the critical reaction in Cannes and at this year's Munich Film Festival was very restrained.
But for all its failures, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a triumph for simply making it to the big screen.