Lost in La Mancha (2002)

(Release Date: February 11, 2002 [Berlin International Film Festival])
(USA Release Date: January 31, 2003)

Four Point Five Stars! It doesn't get much more real than this!Four Point Five Stars! It doesn't get much more real than this!Four Point Five Stars! It doesn't get much more real than this!Four Point Five Stars! It doesn't get much more real than this!1/2

A Quixotic tale of the attempt to make Quixote!

Fat, Bald Me!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Fattest and Baldest Critic!

One wonderful day around twenty years ago, my little sister and I came across a Long Playing Record with a Thick Story Book that we'd never seen before. It appeared to be a dramatic Audio Recording of some Spanish book we'd never heard of about some guy named "Don" with an unpronounceable last name. Though the book and the record were much longer and more detailed than the usual "SEE+HEAR+READ" Disney and Star Wars read-along records we were used to, there was something compelling about the lanky old guy looking triumphant before his admiring overweight sidekick, sitting on his ass. From the moment we began to play and read this adaptation of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra we were enthralled by his over-the-top adventures. They were both admirable, and incredibly funny! And so began a life of Don Quixote Fandom!

I've been a huge fan ever since, bigger than anyone I knew. But apparently not bigger than our boy Terry Gilliam!

Gilliam, the actor/ animator made famous by Monty Python, became well respected as a director with such films as Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, and the incomparable Brazil! At long last, Gilliam had won his battle to bring his updated version of Don Quixote to the Big Screen with Co-Writer Tony Grisoni. And get this, he bagged no less stars than Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort! With a Contemporized Screenplay, the Genius of Gilliam, and the superb Depp this film is the dream of all fans of Cervantes!

So, you ask, Why have I not seen this film? Where can I rent it?

That's the Problemmo...

The Film Never Came out!

In fact, the film folded a mere six days into shooting!

And that's the story of Lost in La Mancha! What was originally intended to be The Making of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by filmmakers Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton by necessity became the first ever "Unmaking of" documentary ever made. Oh, it's a terrible thing, for sure, to see every imaginable misfortune befall the film making process one bit at a time, but it also managed to make what was intended to be a DVD Extra into a film of its own right! Let me tell you, as dramas go, this Documentary has all the force and ironic humor of your favorite films. If only this were fiction. You can't make this up, man!

Narrator Jeff Bridges (who also starred in The Fisher King) guides us not only through the preproduction and rise of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but also on a brief, animated montage of Gilliam's career told in the same cut-out whimsy that made Terry's own Monty Python animations so hilarious!

As we enter in to the real meat of the project this documentary starts to feel a lot more like an actually interesting episode of Project Greenlight. Gilliam's props and special effects teams seem to be right on track, the actors seem excited and interested and Terry himself is in fully happy independent filmmaker mode. We even are treated to Gilliam's vocal impressions of Don Quixote as he imagines him, and to Gilliam's cartoonish and detailed art in both story-board and in leisure doodle! It looks to the cast, crew and viewer that this is going to be a great film!

And then disaster strikes! Not one, several. I could list them all, but trust me, if you can guess a crappy thing to take place, it's in this film.

Just as things seem to be calming down, Nato War Planes on Practice Bombings fly overhead and make filming and dialogue impossible. And I mean every time! It's like old Archie Bunker flushing the toilet during a tender moment on All in the Family! When things start looking bright, there's the plane. When things seem darkest, we get the punctuation of the plane! When things don't seem like ANYTHING notable, here's the plane! And look... a Bomb! There's no way to describe this repeated insult except, well, Quixotic!

I think the worst part about this is that we get to really see Terry Gilliam as Terry Gilliam in all his hope and happiness before the crash. Judging from his resume, one might expect this guy to be somewhat dreamily surreal or weirdly psychotic like Tim Burton in a Viking Costume. Just being the only Yank in the Monty Python company is enough to make anyone a Jungian experiment! Nothing could be further from the truth! Terry Gilliam is by all appearances the nicest, most down to Earth and Affable guy you could meet. He's got a million dollar smile, and is completely unpretentious. We see him here as a hopeful dreamer who just wants to make the best film he can make, and at the same time has a respect for the peers around him. It's impossible not to feel for Terry and his friends as the film quite literally washes away around him!

It's also impossible not to laugh! It's a tragic sort of humor, yes, but it's hilarious. Imagine a movie where every form of Bathetic accident befalls one loveable loser with the best of intentions. Imagine the perfectly timed groans from the screen and audience, and image that unseen forces are grinding our hero under an invisible boot all while Johnny Depp watches in confused disbelief. This movie would be fit for directing by Terry Gilliam. The fact that it's real life and happening to Terry Gilliam makes one unsure whether to laugh or cry.

Gilliam says Laugh! As distraught as the poor man might be over the bitch-slapping his film gets, he still remains hopeful and insists on a "Warts and All" portrayal by Pepe and Fulton. That's not just what makes Terry Gilliam a great guy, but it's what makes Lost in La Mancha a great film! I said it before and I'll say it again... you can't make this stuff up! Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and at those times, you find yourself lost in La Mancha!

Three cheers for the warts-and-all approach, three cheers for Keith and Louis, three cheers for honesty. Three cheers and Four and a Half Stars! Whether you're up for a drama, a comedy, a fantasy, a documentary or a horror film, I'd wager Lost in La Mancha will quench your movie thirst. From the opening to the end this is a well-done, honest and perfectly edited little film about one magnanimous and Quixotic dreamer and one project about Quixote that itself is too Quixotic for completion.


The Windmills in Reality Fight Back!
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Lost in La Mancha (2002) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who alone is responsible for both his reviews and his aging Horsie and Cardboard Armor!
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