By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Terry Gilliam’s epic passion project has a promising start that’s grounded in reality and full of laughs, but in the director’s typical style, eventually becomes messy and incoherent, even if it is stunning to look at.
Director Toby (Adam Driver) returns to the town where he once shot a student film production of Miquel De Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’ and finds that local villager Javier (Jonathan Pryce), who played the lead years ago, has since transformed into Quixote himself.
What a mission it’s been to get this film to the big screen. Director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) invested more than 25 years of attempts into getting this project on its feet, and after several unsuccessful attempts, and lawsuits for which it’s still getting through, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote lives. So, the question on everyone’s lips now is, is it any good? The answer is… ‘sometimes’?
Gilliam’s love-child starts off reasonable enough. Commercial director Toby (Driver) represents the frustration of Gilliam in the modern world of filmmaking. The director has been copping it big time for insensitive comments about minority inclusion, some way out of line, and some simply blown out of proportion. Clearly, it’s gotten to the man because there’s definitely an underlying passive aggression to the character of Toby.
The overall tone of Quixote however, at least in the first half of the film, is reasonably light-hearted and silly, and I mean that in the best of ways. Toby’s journey back to the village is littered with flashbacks of his original production that has since transformed the appropriately named village of Los Suenos (The Dreams) along with its eccentric inhabitants, including the senile and quite often hilarious ‘Quixote’ himself (another version of Gilliam?), played convincingly by Brazil’s Jonathan Pryce. The actor and long-time collaborator of Gilliam, is HILARIOUS at times. The scene with the cattle prod is one that I still can’t get out of my head – a delicious kind of ridiculous, much like the kind in Monty Python, where Gilliam originally got his start.
Then there’s the young and innocent ‘Dulcinea’ Angelica played well by the criminally unknown Spanish actress Joana Ribeiro, who together with Gilliam, were both at the film’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival screening and discussion this week.
The star here however, is unsurprisingly Adam Driver who should be given an award simply for successfully navigating his way around a bat-shit crazy Gilliam plot that, like the infuriating Imaginarium of Dr Parnasuss, starts relatively fun and carefree, but soon descends into the fantastic, the unbelievable, and the nonsensical. Gilliam’s flair for the fantastic works best when it simply enhances the reality of a coherent film – think 12 Monkeys or Brazil. Why did you have to go overboard again, Terry?
Without Driver, the third act would be a total mess, not that it’s 100% tolerable even with the talented actor. At times, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is as maddening as it is beautifully crafted, and it is beautifully crafted. It’s a stylised piece of work and a fine achievement by local Spanish art directors Alejandro Fernández, Eduardo Hidalgo Hijo and Gabriel Liste, only matched by the magnificent and poetic landscapes that Spain has to offer.
There’s a lot that’s frustrating about this movie. The final act is a distracting mess with minimal laughs and one too many metaphors, not to mention a string of useless characters. But, there’s one thing we can take away from this, and that is that as ‘old man yelling at cloud’ as Terry Gilliam has become, at least he’s aware of how ridiculous he can be, and it’s more than obvious that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is an accurate, farcical and manic representation of this man’s frustration with old age and the radically changing face of film.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is screening in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this week, and is in Czech cinemas nationally from July 5.
Photos: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary