The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
"Gilliam’s script cannot quite stand the excesses of his own imagination." | Photo: Alan Amato

It is a miracle - given all the obstacles littered in Terry Gilliam’s 20-year quest to bring Cervantes' wandering knight to the screen - that we were able to see the finished production at all.

The credits and disclaimer at the start give hints of the recent troubles by suggesting that the screening (it is the closing film today, 18 May, in this year’s Cannes Film Festival) would not prejudice any rights held by the litigious Portuguese producer Paolo Branco. Then the caption appears that reads: “And now … after more than 25 years in the making … and unmaking.”

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That sets a jolly rumbustious tone which pervades the uneven and troubled production. Gilliam obviously feels a close empathy with the titular character as he tilts at windmills and much more besides including topical references to Trump, but Quixote’s litany of eccentricities begin to pall after a while.

Gilliam’s script cannot quite stand the excesses of his own imagination but he is well enough served by his actors, notably Jonathan Pryce as the grizzled shoemaker who thinks he is Don Quixote and the lugubrious features of Adam Driver as Toby, an ambitious young film-maker and purveyor of commercials whom Quixote thinks of as his “loyal squirrel” Sancho Panza.

Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality the picaresque proceedings unfold - first the fabled tilting at windmills (actually a modern wind farm) is revealed to be the set for TV commercial for vodka with a snarling and effective Stellan Skarsgärd as the company boss. Toby also suddenly remembers that he made a black and white student film a decade or so earlier which also was inspired by Cervantes.

Gilliam, despite the longevity of the project, seems to muddle the lines of the narrative and lacks linear clarity. Although certain set-pieces are enjoyable, the pace slows down under the weight of its own colourful detail and characters.

The strange feeling lurks that the fascination around the project (so succinctly documented in the film by Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton, Lost In La Mancha) is far more powerful and intriguing than the end result itself, which is dedicated to actors from the earlier version, Jean Rochefort and John Hurt.

Gilliam possesses reserves of imagination and creativity that would put many directors to shame, yet here he fails to hit the mark sufficiently often enough to take the audience with him. There’s plenty to wallow in in the way of Pythonesque slapstick and tickle, leading Skarsgärd to intone at one point: “Keep up with the plot,” provoking the response from Driver’s Sancho “There is a plot?”

Perhaps the director is having a joke up his sleeve at our expense.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2018
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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote packshot
A cynical advertising director finds himself trapped in the outrageous delusions of an old Spanish shoe-maker who believes himself to be Don Quixote.

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writer: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, based on the book by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra

Starring: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko, Joana Ribeiro, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Watkins, Sergi López, Jordi Mollà, Rossy de Palma, William Miller, Paloma Bloyd, Viveka Rytzner, Bruno Sevilla, Mario Tardón

Year: 2018

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: Spain, UK, France, Portugal


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Lost In La Mancha
State And Main