He Dreams of Giants

 

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Portrait of the Artist as an Elderly Man.

 
He Dreams of Giants  

Terry Gilliam

 

Back in 2002, Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe made an outstanding documentary about Terry Gilliam's attempts to film Don Quixote. Its prime focus was on his aborted shooting of it with Johnny Depp and the late Jean Rochefort as its lead actors and their documentary closed with the indefatigable Gilliam declaring that he hoped that their piece would prove to be a trailer for a film yet to be made. In the event it would eventually become that since Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote staring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce arrived on screen in 2018. In consequence of that we now have this new work from Fulton and Pepe which follows on from where their Lost in La Mancha left off and ends with what appears to be a glorious outcome as Terry Gilliam's completed film receives its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The response on that occasion was twenty minutes of applause for the filmmaker. Subsequently, however, despite everyone wanting to like this film born of Gilliam's Herculean efforts, the critical response was mixed and I was one of those who was disappointed by it.

 

On paper, He Dreams of Giants looks to be not only a companion piece to Lost in La Mancha but a work of similar character so it is important to stress how different they are. The earlier film had drama in abundance as we followed the ups and downs of Gilliam's pet project. This time, however, although we do see archive material that looks back on Gilliam's career that aspect is brief and cursory. Then, once the final preparations for the shoot that would start in 2017 have been etched in, He Dreams of Giants devotes itself largely to footage taken during the filming.

 

We do see the main actors, the photographer Nicola Pecorino and some of the crew, but the main focus is always on Terry Gilliam himself. That is apt because in essence what this new film is offering is a portrait of Gilliam emphasising his willpower and his ability to dream. As we come to realise that is exactly what is required if one is an artist determined to make a work for which commercial considerations matter less than art and integrity (in passing one notes the extent to which these necessary characteristics unite Gilliam and Don Quixote himself).

 

This documentary is a deeply honest work in which Gilliam exposes his own fears and doubts. With the film having firmly established itself inside his head long before all the setbacks that started to derail the project, he asks if it would have been better to leave it there. It's a question that haunts him all the more given the weight of expectation from his admirers who have awaited the film for so long. Furthermore, he ponders if with health issues possibly undermining his capabilities it would be wiser not to persist. But what emerges most tellingly is that for somebody like Gilliam not to be creating would be akin to being dead and that is so regardless of the fact that the process of filmmaking is frequently worrying and frustrating. Sometimes, though, it brings happiness - yet it is never, never fun.

 

On its own terms, this is a striking study but Lost in La Mancha is by far the better film. Rather arbitrarily this new piece is divided into titled sections and, while the eventual shooting of Gilliam's film is followed in chronological order, the material lacks any real dramatic shape of its own. The flashbacks only add to this feeling and knowledge on the part of the viewer is too readily assumed (extracts from Fellini's are included before the title identifies it and other Gilliam movies that are glimpsed go unnamed). It's also the case that nothing whatever is said to describe the story by Cervantes that so inspired Gilliam that he had to make this film. For out-and-out Gilliam aficionados He Dreams of Giants is unmissable, but for others its appeal as a feature-length work feels somewhat limited despite its many strong points.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Terry Gilliam, Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Amy Gilliam, Nicola Pecorini.

 

Dir Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, Pro Lucy Darwin and Keith Fulton, Ph Louis Pepe and Jeremy Royce, Ed Bill Hilferty, James Billeskov Jansen and Nymere Laura Minnear, Music Michael Jacaszek.

 

Cornice Pictures/Low Key Productions/Quixote Productions/Darwin Films-Blue Finch Releasing.
85 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 29 March 2021. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 15.