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In Theaters/On VOD: THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2019)

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THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
(Spain/Belgium/France/Portugal - 2018; US release 2019)

Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Olga Kurylenko, Joana Ribeiro, Jordi Molla, Sergi Lopez, Rossy de Palma, Jason Watkins, Oscar Jaenada, Hovik Keuchkerian, William Miller, Paloma Bloyd, Will Keen, Jorge Calvo, Antonio Gil, Rodrigo Poison. (Unrated, 133 mins)

Terry Gilliam is no stranger to overcoming obstacles and adversity in bringing his vision to life, whether it's running wildly over budget on 1989's THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, bitterly clashing with Universal studio head Sid Sheinberg on 1985's BRAZIL and Miramax's Harvey Weinstein on 2005's THE BROTHERS GRIMM, or being forced to completely overhaul 2009's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS after Heath Ledger's sudden death midway through production. But those were walks in the park compared to Gilliam's Sisyphean ordeal in getting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE made. A dream project he began mulling over around the time of BARON MUNCHAUSEN, THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE was conceived by Gilliam and frequent collaborator Tony Grisoni (the pair also worked together on 1998's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and 2006's TIDELAND) as a revisionist take on the classic Miguel de Cervantes novel Don Quixote, and began shooting in September 2000 with beloved French actor Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote and Johnny Depp as Toby, a present-day marketing executive who gets sucked back in time to the 16th century and is mistaken for loyal sidekick Sancho Panza by the aging and insane knight-errant.





Jean Rochefort in Gilliam's unfinished 2000 version
On the first day of filming, the problems started: while completing some early location work in Spain, Gilliam discovered that the constant flights from a nearby NATO training base would render the sound unusable, necessitating post-production dubbing and sound effects. On the second day, a hailstorm and some intense flash floods destroyed some equipment and altered the appearance of the surrounding cliffs, forcing Gilliam to scrap all of the first day's work since the shots wouldn't match. On the third day, Gilliam was told that the production's insurance company wouldn't cover the cost of the damaged or lost equipment. Then some actors started bailing. On the fifth day, the 70-year-old Rochefort was in obvious pain, wincing during takes and unable to ride a horse. He flew to Paris to visit his doctor and was diagnosed with a double herniated disc that required immediate surgery. With no timetable set for the return of Rochefort--who never acted in an English-language film to that point and spent several months learning the language just for the role--Gilliam and Depp soldiered on, shooting whatever they could to work around his absence, but production was soon suspended. By November, the ailing Rochefort was still sidelined under doctor's orders and the French producers and their insurers--citing the flood damage and Rochefort's medical issues as "acts of God"--shut down the production for good two months into filming. This was chronicled in the 2002 documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA, directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe and intended to be a making-of for the eventual DVD release, but the production grew so chaotic and cursed so quickly that they were gifted with an opportunity to create their own feature film instead.


While working on other projects in the ensuing years, Gilliam always had DON QUIXOTE on the backburner. From 2003 to 2016, he made it to various stages of pre-production, with Robert Duvall, Michael Palin, and John Hurt attached as Quixote at certain points (production was nearly set to begin in mid-2015 but was halted once more when Hurt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer), along with Depp, Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, and Jack O'Connell as the time-traveling Sancho Panza stand-in. A falling out and protracted legal battle with Portuguese producer Paulo Branco (who later tried--unsuccessfully--to halt the film's release, the stress of which contributed to Gilliam suffering a minor stroke in May 2018), and the implosion of a distribution deal with Amazon almost derailed the film again in 2016, but shooting finally began--finally, for real--in March 2017 with Gilliam's BRAZIL star Jonathan Pryce, who was originally cast in another role back in 2000, as Quixote, and Adam Driver as Toby. Gilliam and Grisoni had plenty of time to revise and restructure the story, and much like AVATAR had been brewing in James Cameron's head for so long that he used bits and pieces of it in other films over his career, longtime Gilliam fans will recognize familiar ideas and characterizations that may have surfaced in a similar form in his work over the last 30 years (there's more than a little of John Neville's Baron Munchausen and Robin Williams' Parry from THE FISHER KING in Pryce's portrayal of Don Quixote). But unlike Gilliam's 2014 film THE ZERO THEOREM, it doesn't play like a stopgap Gilliam's Greatest Hits package. THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE is the best thing Gilliam's done since 1995's 12 MONKEYS, and it's so near and dear to its maker's heart that you can sense his passion in every scene, almost like he can't believe it's finally being made. Or that after nearly 30 years of this being his white whale (the opening credits have a self-congratulatory "25 years in the making...and unmaking"), he'd have absolutely no excuse for not getting it right.


In Spain shooting a TV commercial, Driver's Toby is a former film school wunderkind who long ago succumbed to jaded cynicism, selling out to work in advertising. He's inspired when his obnoxious boss (Stellan Skarsgard) picks up a bootleg DVD from a gypsy peddler (Oscar Jaenada). It's Toby's award-winning student film from a decade earlier, a micro-budget, black-and-white version of Don Quixote that he shot in a nearby village, starring a cast of locals headed by simple, elderly shoemaker Javier (Pryce). Unable to focus on the TV commercial, Toby impulsively leaves the set and visits the village, which is still feeling the effects of the movie shoot from ten years ago: local innkeeper Raul (Hovik Keuchkerian) remains bitter over Toby telling his teenage daughter Angelica (Joana Ribeiro) that she could be a movie star, prompting her to run away in search of stardom that has only led a life as an escort for wealthy men; and Javier still remains in costume as a sideshow attraction, convinced he's Don Quixote. "Quixote" sees Toby and thinks he's Sancho Panza returning to serve as his faithful squire for more marvelous adventures in "chivalry."


Johnny Depp in the abandoned 2000 version
To say anything more would deprive you of the rambunctious and inspired mayhem that transpires, running the gamut from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama (most notably, the time-travel element has been mostly jettisoned, with Gilliam having used it extensively in 12 MONKEYS and with the idea of alternate realities in THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, which really seems to have been a landing point for a lot of his initial QUIXOTE ideas). In a performance that would be generating awards buzz if this got any kind of release (it was given a one-night Fathom Events screening in theaters before heading to VOD on April 19, courtesy of Screen Media Films), Pryce is an absolute joy to behold. Watching him here, it's easy to imagine an alternate universe when Gilliam made this 25 or 30 years ago with a still-living Peter Sellers as Quixote. Pryce is matched by Driver, who spends much of the film in a state of sustained rage and confusion over the often absurdist plot turns that make this the funniest film Gilliam's done since his days in Monty Python.


Following the multi-decade nightmare of getting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE out of his head and on the screen (Fulton and Pepe have also made their own sequel, HE DREAMED OF GIANTS, detailing the events following LOST IN LA MANCHA), Gilliam turns Quixote's saga into a very personal one that deals with the effects of the creative process and the sacrifices made in the name of art and integrity, whether it's an obsessive, ambitious filmmaker like young Toby blithely unaware of his impact on Javier and Angelica, or the cynicism and bitterness that can take hold when nothing goes right (Skarsgard's "The Boss" even casually tosses out "Act of God" as an excuse at one point, echoing the producers who shut the production down in 2000). It's a film that marches to the beat of its own drum, unafraid to go off on unexpected tangents and not really concerned with tying everything together, but always entertaining and never feeling self-indulgent. Considering the number of times he's faced insurmountable odds over his storied career, and let's be honest, some of it he brings on himself (re: THE BROTHERS GRIMM, why even get involved with a control-freak studio head known industry-wide as "Harvey Scissorhands" unless you're looking for a fight?), it's just nice to see this work as beautifully as it does and to see that ultimately, the struggle was worth it. THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (Gilliam dedicates it to Rochefort and Hurt, both of whom died in 2017) is just exuberant filmmaking on an grand scale, and the best buddy movie of 2019 so far.





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