The film that topped my ‘must see’ list at MIFF this year was Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’, an adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 Spanish classic novel; not just for the acclaimed director and all-star cast, but because it may be the only opportunity to see it.
Gilliam’s hilarious take on Cervantes has an astounding story. In 1989, he began plotting to film the story about the delusional nobleman and his sidekick. He came close to filming twice when finally, in the year 2000, it went into production. When an actor was forced to go to hospital after major injuries on set, production halted. In the years following, a succession of actors dropped out of the starring role. In 2010, Johnny Depp was lined up to star (Quinn 2018). The documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002) was made to plot the outrageous difficulty of bringing the film into production. After viewing this documentary five years ago, I was thrilled to learn the long-awaited feature was coming to MIFF, after premiering at Cannes. Though the film had thus far received mixed reviews, I nevertheless waited in the incredibly long line outside the Comedy Theatre. It was worth it.
The film is hilarious, witty, and a fun and delightfully confusing mix of reality and fantasy. It is laden with Gilliam’s unique humour, while cleverly being essentially based on its own creation, notably the obsession and dedication of Gilliam in bringing it to production. Toby (Adam Driver) is an acclaimed director shooting a Don Quixote themed commercial in La Mancha, Spain; the same location he made his student film based on Don Quixote years before. He retraces his steps and encounters the shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce), whom he finds has been mentally stuck in the role of Don Quixote since. As Toby sees the opportunity in Javier’s state to make a great commercial, he is inadvertently pulled into a dramatic fantasy epic, and eventually ends up in the same delusionary state as Javier.
Gilliam addresses the production saga with the opening credits: “and now… after 25 years of making… and unmaking… a film by Terry Gilliam”. The films characters are caricatures, and the scenarios, madness. Director Toby frantically trying to navigate demanding actors, producer’s wives, and Russian sociopaths, is probably just an exaggeration of Gilliam’s own experiences of making the film. To add to the saga, the film is now burdened with legal issues. One of the films former producers claims he owns the rights to the film, despite never actually funding it. As Quinn (2018) notes, Festival de Cannes was taking the risk of being sued by the former producer when they decided to screen it on closing night. The Sydney Film Festival, and now MIFF have evidently followed Cannes’ bold move. These risky screenings of Don Quixote display the power and interconnectedness of the ‘festival circuit’. Further, it highlights the importance of festivals as ‘alternative distribution networks’ (Iordanova 2009, p. 23), particularly because these issues may prevent the film getting general release.The drama behind the making and release of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote makes it particularly worth watching. Now I hope to have the opportunity to re-watch it!
By Stephanie Ford
Iordanova D 2009, ‘The Film Festival Circuit’, in Dina Iordanova & Ragan Rhyne (eds.), Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit, St Andrews Film Studies, St Andrews, pp. 23-39.
Quinn, K 2018, ‘Could Terry Gilliam’s Quixote ‘curse’ infect Australian film festivals?’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 2018 <https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/terry-gilliam-s-quixote-curse-could-infect-australian-film-festivals-20180727-p4zu18.html>