Lost in La Mancha (2002) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Terry GIlliam, Jeff Bridges (narrator), Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort, Philip A. Patterson
Director:  Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Screenplay: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe



For over a decade, Terry Gilliam has been developing his dream project of bringing the classic book "Don Quixote" to life, and finally it appears to be coming to fruition.  The project is dubbed The Man who Killed Don Quixote, but its an ambitious endeavor to bring to life, with all of the lavish sets and costumes that you'd expect from a Terry Gilliam film.  Shadows of Gilliam's most costly misfire, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen already keep investors shaky, as this appears to be more of the same, but he does land $32 million in European investors, who probably hope GIlliam has learned his lesson from his first go-round.  Unfortunately, $32 million is only half of what a film like this would cost at minimum, so to make it work, they are going to have to proceed for the duration without a hitch.

Lost in La Mancha is a documentary on Gilliam's attempt to put together his vision with the meager resources he has at hand, and the utter failure in seeing it finally realized.  From the get-go, the production is plagued with mishaps, most notably being the ailing star of the film, Jean Rochefort, who becomes so wrought with pain that he can no longer ride a horse, which is what he is to be doing throughout much of the film.  Then, planes fly overhead once they are on-site, deafening the actors to the point where they can barely hear each other.  Horrendous gusts, thunderstorms, and hail even come into play for this doomed undertaking, and the final blow comes when the insurance company refuses to cover the star of the film, who has been increasingly absent from the set with ever-increasing measure.

Perhaps the best element of Gilliam's failure comes from the irony of the source material in relation to it.  Throughout this interesting documentary, Gilliam is painted to be the quixotic man at the helm, seeing a vision in his mind that no one else can see, and proceeding forth even in the face of overwhelming disaster.  It's funny and heartbreaking at the same time, where we don't know if we should laugh or cry at the folly of one man's dreams crashing down around him. 

However, as interesting as the anecdotal material is, Lost in La Mancha probably could have been a better documentary if it had more of a sense of humor, irony, vision, and spark.  Jeff Bridges provides the narration, but is vastly underutilized, giving some background to the goings on.  Yet, as tragic as the fiasco is, there is something vitally missing from the documentary to make this transcend just being an edited version of the production chopped into 90 minutes, without much commentary.  It shows us the tragedy, yet doesn't drive home a sense of the incredible.  There's a lot of poetic justice in the failure, a man wrestling with demons, internally and externally, but outside of the parallel between Gilliam and Quixote, the potential goldmine of artistic allusions lies dormant, left to our own imaginings.

Lost in La Mancha is worthwhile viewing for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes story of the making and breaking of this film, and will especially be of utmost appeal to fans of the visionary director himself.  While it lacks the creativity and depth of feeling of a Gilliam film, his presence onscreen is entertaining enough to see a master craftsman at work.  As a documentary, it isn't the best one could have hoped for, but as a chronicle of events as they happened, it's fascinating enough for at least one viewing for this quixotic man who dared to dream the impossible dream.

2003 Vince Leo