terry gilliam don quixote

Terry Gilliam is one of the most unique talents in the history of cinema…but he is also one of the most unlucky. The director of Brazil, Time Bandits, The Fisher King, and 12 Monkeys may be a visionary director with a few bonafide masterpieces under his belt, but it definitely feels like some kind of higher power has decided to personally meddle in his affairs for nearly two decades, blocking his each and every attempt to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Now, 17 years after cameras initially rolled on the first iteration of Gilliam’s fantastical take on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel, filming has wrapped. Feel free to picture Gilliam staring at the sky, shaking his fist at the heavens in triumph.

I wrote a more comprehensive history of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote when production began back in March, but here’s the quick version. Cameras started rolling in 2000, with Johnny Depp (pre-superstardom) in the lead role as a modern day man who is sent back in time and encounters Cervantes’ legendary/delusional knight (then played by Jean Rochefort). A series of unbelievable calamities, chronicled in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, shut down production in a matter of days. It never recovered.

Gilliam then spend the next 17 years trying to get it off the ground again, with various actors cycling in and out of the two lead roles. And then Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce joined the cast. And then Amazon Studios signed on to distribute. And then cameras quietly began to roll. And then Terry Gilliam shared this message on his Facebook page:

Gilliam later offered a more in-depth statement, rightfully comparing his lunatic quest to get this move made to the journeys of Don Quixote himself:

Don Quixote is a dreamer, an idealist, and a romantic, determined not to accept the limitations of reality, marching on regardless of setbacks, as we have done. We’ve been at it so long that the idea of actually finishing shooting this ‘clandestine’ film, is pretty surreal. Any sensible person would have given up years ago but sometimes pig-headed dreamers win in the end, so thank you to all of the ill paid fantasists and believers who have joined to make this longstanding dream a reality!

Here’s the official (and new, as far as I can tell) synopsis of the film:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote tells the story of a deluded old man who is convinced he is Don Quixote, and who mistakes Toby, an advertising executive, for his trusty squire, Sancho Panza. The pair embark on a bizarre journey, jumping back and forth in time between the 21st and magical 17th century. Gradually, like the infamous knight himself, Toby becomes consumed by the illusory world and unable to determine his dreams from reality. The tale culminates in a phantasmagorical and emotional finale where Toby takes on the mantle of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Even when I don’t care for Gilliam’s an individual Gilliam production, his films are events – no one else makes movies like him. They are wholly unique and never compromised (The Brothers Grimm being the exception that proves the rule). As long as a freak storm doesn’t descend upon his editing suite and destroy every single copy of the movie, this will be something every movie fan needs to seek out when it’s finished.

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