The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

 

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At long last - Terry Gilliam’s pet project is on our screens.

 
Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce

 

Terry Gilliam’s film opens with a written reminder that due to mishaps and setbacks it has taken him all of twenty years to bring this project to fruition. Now that it is here it may be said that he has realised what had come to seem like an impossible dream (he even made a movie about it, Lost in La Mancha (2002), at a time when reshooting his aborted film originally starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort had appeared to be but an illusory hope). In the circumstances, I would have been delighted to be able to acclaim this long-delayed work and, for the first quarter of it, I thought that it might be possible to do so. But The Man Who Killed Don Quixote lasts all of 133 minutes and the longer it goes on the more off-putting watching it becomes.

 

Whether or not it was always part of the concept for the film, what we have now is the story of an American film director - that’s Toby played by Adam Driver - who, echoing Gilliam himself, is making a film linked to the classic novel by Cervantes. We learn that Toby had made a student film in Spain on the same subject some twenty years earlier using non-professional players. Now that he is back to make a commercial connected to the same subject he meets again some of those whom he had encountered before. These include Raúl (Hovik Keuchkerian) and his daughter, Angélica (Joana Ribeiro), who had been a mere teenager at the time and had acted in his film. Most importantly of all Toby is reunited with the shoemaker, Javier, who had been his Don (Jonathan Pryce) and who now in old age has come to believe that he really is Don Quixote, a situation which leads him to treat Toby as his loyal servant Sancho Panza.

 

Initially this offbeat approach to the novel works well and the film has other advantages too. Driver is well cast but, with all due respect to the late Jean Rochefort, what counts most here is that Pryce seems to have been born to play this Don Quixote: he brings a deep conviction to the illusions that lead the old man to identify with the mythical knight-errant. It is also the case that there is an admirable music score by Roque Baños and good production values. However, once the film moves into a series of picaresque and episodic adventures that befall this Quixote when travelling with Toby it becomes decidedly odder. As in the novel windmills and sheep are transformed in Quixote’s eyes, but I should admit that I am one of the many who have never actually read Cervantes and those who have may better appreciate what Gilliam is seeking to do being able to see it as a response to the source material.

 

Be that as it may, the last quarter of the film brings back Toby’s film colleagues including the company boss (Stellan Skarsgård) and his promiscuous wife, Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko) who has set her sights on Toby. The final section, increasingly obscure in purpose, is set at a fancy dress party given by a Russian host (Jordi Mollá), a man who has made the once innocent Angélica his servile mistress. The film certainly portrays a cruel, cynical world sadly lacking the old values, the chivalry, that Don Quixote represents and ultimately Toby, earlier viewed in far more questionable terms, does become the hero by transforming into a new Don Quixote. But by this stage the film is playing like a work to which only Terry Gilliam has the key. The elements that derive from Cervantes and those exploring issues about filmmakers (not least their impact on people used by them) could in theory have cohered, but fancy takes over to such an extent that focus is lost. The result is an increasingly personal fantasia of uncertain character and intent, a work that becomes tedious long before it comes to an end. Part of the legend that surrounds Orson Welles lies in his failure to complete a film about Don Quixote and it is I fear a matter of debate as to whether or not in doing that at last Terry Gilliam really has been luckier.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko, Joana Ribeiro, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Watkins, Sergi López, Rossy De Palma, Hovik Keuchkerian, Jordi Mollá, Matilde Fluixá.

 

Dir Terry Gilliam, Pro Mariela Besuievsky, Gerardo Herrero, Amy Gilliam, Grégoire Melin and Sébastien Delloye, Screenplay Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, Ph Nicola Sancho Pecorini, Pro Des Benjamin Fernández, Ed Lesley Walker and Teresa Font, Music Roque Baños, Costumes Lena Mossum.

 

Alacran Pictures/Tornasol Films/Kinology/Entre Chien et Loup/Ukbar Filmes/El Hombre Que Mato a Don Quijote AIE/Carisco Producciones AIE/Recorded Picture Company-Sparky Pictures.
133 mins. Spain/France/Belgium/Portugal/UK. 2017. Rel: 31 January 2020. Cert. 15.