Lost in La Mancha, 93 mins, unrated as at press time, scheduled to open in cinemas in July 2003

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 majeure” clause.

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

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