Lost in La Mancha,
93 mins, unrated as at press time, scheduled to open in cinemas in July
Rated – HOT! HOT! HOT!
This is a fabulous documentary, in both senses of the word. The film
centres on director Terry Gilliam (Monty Python’s Flying Circus,
Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, Twelve
Monkeys, etc) who has always been a fabulist – a composer of
fables. For years Gilliam has tried to make a film called The Man
Who Killed Don Quixote, based on Cervantes’ classic book.
Lost in La Mancha is about how that film was not made. It is also
the only film I have ever seen that features prominently a “force
The actor Jeff Bridges narrates. “Don Quixote,” he says, “is a
man who gleefully rattles against all ideas and logic. This
appeals to Gilliam.” Gilliam had tried to make the film before,
but failed when a financier pulled out. This time, Gilliam knows
the budget is very tight, but his vision of the film is fixed.
Production designer Benjamin Fernandez says Gilliam is “a little bit
Quixote. He sees things we humans don’t see.”
The directors of the documentary, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, had
worked with Gilliam before, on their film The Hamster Factor and Other
Tales of Twelve Monkeys. They had Gilliam’s confidence. He
trusted them enough to wear a wireless microphone throughout
pre-production and filming. This brings the audience as close as
possible to the filmmaking. It gives us a rare insight into the
process – but as problems mount, it becomes excruciating.
Things go from mildly disorganised to utter disaster. Gilliam has
trouble getting his actors to Spain. The lead actor is ill.
Then, as they film in an arid region in Spain, a freak storm and flash
flood destroy sets and camera equipment. Though Gilliam stops shooting,
the documentary cameras continue to roll, capturing the aftermath of
the disaster. The crew waits, the insurance adjusters and bondmen
arrive, and lawyers argue over the meaning of “force majeure”: it seems
there is no definition of it in the insurance contract.
Through it all, Gilliam will not compromise. His vision never
waivers. So when the moment comes and his team decides that they
can’t make the film, it is heartbreaking to see the light go out in
Gilliam’s eyes. It is then that we comprehend the terrible
correlation between Gilliam and Don Quixote. As Gilliam’s
co-writer, Tony Grisoni says: “The most painful thing was seeing
reality win over Don Quixote in the end, because it did.”
There have been many documentaries about the making of a film.
The worst of them are just publicity and hype. But this is one of
the best of them. That the filmmakers were on the spot and able
to capture it all – and that Gilliam let them - makes this film both
rare and fascinating.
© Michèle M Asprey 2003
This review is copyright. You must not use any part without my