The Man Who Killed Don Qixote

THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE,  UK, 2018. Starring Adam Driver, Johnson Pryce, Stellan Skarsgaard, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Moll, Joana Ribeiro. Directed by Terry Gilliam. 132 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language)

Once upon a time there was a writer-director, Terry Gilliam, a man of wild imagination, an American, cartoonist and animator, who found a home in the company of the Monty Python cast, contributing his own style to the look and tone of their television programs and films. After being successful with such cult films as Brazil and Time Bandits, having expensive and lavish flops like Baron Munchausen, bizarre portrait of Gonzo journalist, Hunter S.Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he decided to make a project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – but what might be called you will-fortune overtook him – overbudget, filming stopping after six days, the ill-health of French actor Jean Rochefort who was playing Don Quixote, the presence of Johnny Depp.

What was salvaged out of this experience was a documentary, Lost in La Mancha, full of regrets, full of vision impossible.

But, Terry Gilliam persevered, and here is his intended film. For those looking forward to it, it is a Terry Gilliam indulgence. For some looking forward to it, it is something of a bewilderment, a blend of the real and the surreal, matter-of-fact realism and fantasy. For those who don’t know the history, either response is possible.

Adam Driver is an unusual choice to play Toby, directing a commercial in Spain inspired by Don Quixote himself. Toby is moody, pedantic, perfectionist ambitions but not quite realising them. In fact, he had made a student film 10 years earlier from Cervantes and his novel and gained a reputation because of it. In a sullen break from filming, hopping on a motorbike and intensely rushing through the Spanish countryside, he revisits the locale for his student film, discovering that his amateur actor, a cobbler, is still in the village, somewhat out of his mind, performing for visitors in a poverty-row sideshow, a performance of a somewhat demented Don Quixote.

The cobbler is played by Jonathan Pryce, an excellent choice to play Don Quixote, stealing every scene he is in, puzzled by his being chosen for the role, inept in performing, rising to energy and then becoming the Don.

In the modern background are the film boss played by Stellan Skarsgaard, Olga Lurylenko as his seeming trophy wife, an assortment of producers and publicists as well as members of the crew.

But then, Terry Gilliam’s imagination goes rather wild – and the wildness is all up there on the screen, lavish costumes and decor, a re-enactment of Cervantes story, this time Toby himself becoming Sancho Panza. The odd couple ride horses, tilt at windmills, encounter all kinds of enemies, femme fatale, Giants… But, all the time, Toby is conscious of his being himself as well as Sancho Panza, entangled with a villain, Jorda Molla, and the significance already-appearance of his original Dulcinea, the daughter of the restaurant owner, leading to religious rituals, festivities, violence, fights – and death.

What one might call a mixed bag, and, one might ask, to what purpose?

Umbrella                              Released April 12th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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