Lost in La Mancha


IS THERE A MORE SINGULAR and fiercely individual director than Terry Gilliam? Sure, Lynch and the Coen brothers have forged similar distinct and personal celluloid universes, but they’ve always had it easy—their respective studios and financiers have, for the most part, left them alone.

Gilliam however, always has to fight. From the epic battle he waged over Brazil, to the whipping he took for Baron Munchausen (certainly one of the most unfairly maligned and booed films of all time), Gilliam, despite proving himself again and again commercially and critically (Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King), has been pigeonholed as a loose canon lunatic.

Lost in La Mancha, a new-to-video documentary chronicling the horrific mishaps of Gilliam’s ill-fated attempt to film his dream, Don Quixote, is by no means a great film. It’s stilted, slow, and not nearly as gripping as it should be. Nevertheless, it’s significant in showing how a pure and enthusiastic vision can be corrupted.

As the film begins, Gilliam is effusive and nervous. His decade-long dream is coming to life. He has a perfect cast: the dead-ringer Jean Rochefort as Quixote, as well as Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, and slew of highly convincing hairy men for ogres; he’s assembled the best production and design people, and arranged for on-site locations in Spain. The only problem is the budget—at a meager $32 million, there is no room for error and, boy, do errors occur. Flooding, the roar of F-16 fighters drowning out any recorded sound, Jean Rochefort’s devastating back injury, and a slew of other problems all grind the film to a halt. Soon the investors have pulled out and Gilliam’s dream is gone.

The documentary, directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, could have been captivating, but ends up quite static. Crucial scenes are left underdeveloped and half-baked, and the film’s meandering quality may have been the way productions actually work, but it sure makes for a dull viewing experience. Still, the potent parallel between Quixote’s elegiac yearnings to make his dying world more interesting and Gilliam’s failed dream are undeniable. It is strongly implied that the film would have been Gilliam’s grandest yet (no mean feat), and even though he has moved on to the promising Brothers Grimm, it is hard not to dream a little, too. Oh well, we always have the next round of Tomb Raider and Scary Movie sequels to look forward to. Lost in La Mancha is a depressing film for a multitude of reasons.