Lost in La Mancha

(Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, UK/USA, 2002)


The great obsession of documentary filmmakers these days is to get a story – and the more catastrophic, the better.

It is no longer enough simply to hang out with interesting people in an intriguing place. There must be drama, conflict and hopefully either a deliriously happy or morbidly tragic resolution.

Some contemporary documentaries give the impression of forcing or beating-up a strong story where one simply did not exist in reality. Lost in La Mancha is among these beat-ups.

The filmmakers happened to be around to record the behind-the-scenes, making-of events that took place in the preparations for the shoot of Terry Gilliam's long cherished Don Quixote project.

Fortunately for these filmmakers – but not so fortunately for Gilliam – everything started going wrong. The budget is pinched, it's hard to get all the actors together from diverse countries, the weather is impossible. And then the lead actor, Jean Rochefort, becomes gravely ill.

All throughout Lost in La Mancha, I wondered: what is so special about these problems? Aren't they, more or less, the practical, logistical matters that preoccupy every film crew, especially on a complex international co-production?

To beef up this material, the documentary indulges in various fancies. It makes Gilliam seem like either an impossible, heartless tyrant (his willingness to push the weak Rochefort into physically difficult scenes is a mite disturbing to see) or a damned visionary genius – praise which would be rather an exaggeration, in my opinion.

Long-bow comparisons are drawn between Gilliam and Orson Welles, and there is much gloomy, idiotic speculation about the "Quixote curse"– a curse that seems not to have affected most of the films based on Cervantes' novel.

There are also efforts to pad out the material, some of which are relatively engaging – like a script-reading by Gilliam and his screenwriter, accompanied by animated versions of the director's extensive storyboard sketches.

But it's hard to get terribly excited about the supposed tragedy of this "film that never was", since it seems, on so many levels, like a re-heating of bits and pieces from Gilliam's previous overrated works.

MORE Gilliam: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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