Lost in La Mancha is the strange tale of the filming of an even stranger tale of Don Quixote. You may have heard of him. He was a valiant defender of lost causes, battler of oppressors both real and imaginary, and humble legend in his own mind. Who better to tell the story of this courageous windmill killer than renegade filmmaker and arch-nemesis of Hollywood studio executives, Terry Gilliam? It would seem to be a perfect match. Of course, once the fable had time to churn about in the windmills of Gilliam's mysteriously inventive mind, matters became just a bit more complicated.
The movie is called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. With a brilliant eye for casting, Gilliam chose Jean Rochefort to play the title role. Fans of irony will appreciate that he chose a French actor who had to learn English just so he could play a Spaniard! But, while Quixote does receive top billing, his exploits are told mainly through the eyes of an outsider; a 21st century advertising executive played by Johnny Depp! The concept is that Depp's ad-man somehow travels back to 17th century Spain, where he is mistaken for Quixote's sidekick, Sancho Panza. He then tags along as the delusional Spaniard fights his way across the land, battling all manner of evil spectres. Meanwhile, the real forces of evil are trailing not far behind. Depp must not only make some sense of Quixote's bizarre behavior, but must also figure out how and why he's been given the great misfortune of having to labor under these very peculiar circumstances. And, lest I forget to mention, he has to do it all without getting himself killed in the process!
Why would anyone have trouble bringing this to the silver screen? I
mean, it's all so simple, isn't it? After all, it wasn't so hard to make this movie the first time. The plot should sound familiar to most film buffs. It's the story of an advertising executive who, due to a case of mistaken identity, has many harrowing adventures as he is persued across the country. All the while, he has no idea why any of this is happening to him. The film that Gilliam wants to make, or re-make as the case may be, is Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest! In fact, the title, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, bears a striking similarity to Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. Nowhere in Lost in La Mancha is Hitchcock acknowledged as a source of inspiration, but I find it hard to believe that Gilliam wasn't thinking along these lines. To further spice things up, we are treated to his long-desired version of Don Quixote, as well as his favorite plot device, time travel. As envisioned by Gilliam, director of such films as Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, and Brazil, this movie, of course, would have been absolutely spectacular.
I say 'would have been', for, alas, the picture was never completed. All that now survives from the doomed production is this behind-the-scenes documentary, which bluntly chronicles the self-destruction of Gilliam's dream project. Nothing I write here can adequately prepare you for the chain of events that befell The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Sure, I could tell you what happened, but you would never believe it!
Lost in La Mancha is a gritty and sometimes painful look at the art of movie making that is as startling, funny, and tragic as the character of Don Quixote himself. It's a must-see for anyone interested in what really goes on behind the camera.
Directed By: Keith Fulton and Luis Pepe
Written By: Keith Fulton and LuisPepe
Starring: Terry Gilliam, Jean Rochefort, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges
Rated: R (language)
Running Time: 93 Min.