Lost In La Mancha

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Lost In La Mancha

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Lost In La Mancha

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Two of the great documentaries about troubled film productions, 1982's Burden Of Dreams (about Fitzcarraldo) and 1991's Hearts Of Darkness (about Apocalypse Now), both centered on crazed visionaries who, in creating art from chaos, grew into uncanny reflections of their subjects. As their protagonists venture deeper into the jungle, Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola let their sanity slip away from them in kind, with the former attempting to drag a three-story riverboat up a muddy slope on primitive pulleys, and the latter turning Vietnam into an all-too-potent metaphor for madness. So it seemed almost painfully inevitable that history would repeat itself with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an under-budgeted adaptation of the Miguel De Cervantes classic, directed by crazed-visionary king Terry Gilliam (Brazil), a man whose genius is often soured by his reputation for runaway productions. Directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, whose lively The Hamster Factor chronicled Gilliam's obsessive (and obscure) perfectionism on the set of 12 Monkeys, were again given generous access to the set, and they should feel fortunate that the curse didn't drag them under, too. Their entertaining and oddly inspirational documentary may not live up to its predecessors, but that's because Gilliam couldn't finish Quixote before the forces of nature, the vagaries of financing, and the will of the gods had their way with him. Otherwise, Lost In La Mancha is just as compelling a shadow adaptation of its source as Burden Of Dreams or Hearts Of Darkness—especially in its suggestion that the only proper way to make a Don Quixote film is to charge headlong into windmills. By his own admission, Gilliam needs an "impossible" endeavor to get his creative juices flowing, which explains both why Quixote had been a decades-old "dream project," and why major studios had balked at taking the plunge. (Orson Welles, cinema's greatest Quixotic figure, had also tried and failed to mount his own version over a 20-year period.) The dark clouds start to gather in the early stages of pre-production, as it becomes obvious to everyone involved that Quixote's paltry $32 million budget, scraped together from a patchwork of European sources, would leave no margin for error. After a few minor setbacks, the tempest arrives, literally, on the first week, when shooting near a NATO airbase gets wiped out by a hailstorm that washes away the equipment and set dressings. The catastrophes snowball quickly from there, and the fatal blow comes when lead actor Jean Rochefort (who learned English for the role) gets sidelined by a hernia that forbids him from riding a horse. At once bitterly funny and devastating, Lost In La Mancha sides with Gilliam in form and spirit, piecing together the train wreck with snaky humor and interludes that cleverly mimic his Monty Python collage animations. In return for their access to Gilliam, Fulton and Pepe are perhaps too kind in shifting responsibility away from him at every turn, but they can be forgiven for toeing the party line. They're not the first—or, presumably, the last—to play the role of his Sancho Panza.

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