lost in la mancha (2002)


directors: keith fulton, louis pepe

Terry Gilliam may yet make his film version of Don Quixote, but for the moment it looks like Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha, a "making-of" documentary of a film that was barely begun, is the only record we'll have of this promising project.

Gilliam, who had dreamed of making the film for years, began production in the summer of 2000, shooting in the same austere Spanish locations where Cervantes' book is set. He had his stars - Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Johnny Depp as the mad knight's sidekick, Sancho Panza - and a budget cobbled together from the usual precarious mix of European funding. Just how precarious would remain to be seen.

Rochefort, who's a perfect physical match for Quixote, also turned out to speak very little English, and was discovered to have a severe hernia that made time in the saddle - he was to spend most of the film on horseback - incredibly painful. With sets, costumes and casting in place, Gilliam was far too along to re-cast, which set in motion the grim machinery of insurance and production guarantees which would eventually break his film's back before it barely began.

This, it seems, would have been bad enough, if it weren't for the soundstage with no soundproofing, the picturesque rural location next to a NATO bombing range, and finally a Biblical deluge that comes out of a clear blue sky and almost washes the production away in a flash flood. The curse that apparently rests on any attempt to film Don Quixote seems to take effect with relentless, pitiless resolve.

It's all over after a painful week, and we watch Gilliam and his crew pack up, the stuning sets and costumes apparently in hock to the guarantors who shut the film down. Gilliam shows us the two scenes he's managed to complete - barely a fraction of a completed film - and emotionally resolves to finish it, one day. You wish him well, but you have your doubts. Some films just don't seem to want to get made.

For Gilliam fans, Lost in La Mancha is a demoralizing document, showing how little room there is for a truly creative director to manoeuvre. With all the deluxe Criterion box sets of Brazil sitting on the shelves of producers and executives, you'd think someone, somewhere, would want to help Gilliam make his film.