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'Lost In La Mancha'

Film captures end of 'Quixote' dream

Friday, April 11, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Terry Gilliam's $32 million movie was called "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." Little did he know how prophetic the title would be. He didn't kill his dream project about the man who tilts at windmills; it was felled by forces largely beyond his control.

'Lost In La Mancha'

RATING: R for language

DIRECTORS: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe

WEB SITE: www.lostin


Local movie showtimes


By F-16s shrieking over his idyllic and middle-of-nowhere set in Spain. By torrential rains that left the set a muddy mess with darkened landscape colors no longer matching the footage in the can. By a courtly leading man stricken initially by panic and then health problems that caused his face to register pain and then his body to surrender.

"Lost in La Mancha," now at the Regent Square Theater, is subtitled "The Un-Making of Don Quixote" and it's a behind-the-scenes documentary about a movie that didn't get made. Oh, it had all the usual trappings: Cast, crew, costumes that Gilliam suggests might win the designer another Oscar, budgets, beautiful storyboards, timetables, hope and creativity.

Gilliam, the director of "Time Bandits," "Brazil," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "Twelve Monkeys" and "The Fisher King," tells filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe that he's been fantasizing about this for a very long time. "I've made the picture in my head," he says, and you easily believe him.

As we hear from narrator Jeff Bridges, Gilliam decided to produce his movie in Europe rather than Hollywood, and we join the action in late summer 2000, two months before filming is scheduled to start. Seventy-year-old Jean Rochefort spent seven months learning to speak English to star, and Johnny Depp is cast as his sidekick. The cast is unavailable until the last minute for costume and makeup tests, and the only available soundstage in Madrid is an unfinished warehouse that seems to attract noise instead of blocking it.

When cast and crew relocate four hours north of Madrid for the first day of shooting, they realize they're in the flight path of fighter jets. Gilliam says they're doomed (using a more colorful word), but his assessment is premature. Thunder, darkening skies and rains of biblical proportions arrive the next day, and Day Three dawns in a shroud of fog. By Day Five, it takes two men to gently maneuver the ailing Rochefort off his horse and another 40 minutes before he can walk to the car.

And things go downhill from there.

Although there are obvious holes in this documentary -- we never hear from Rochefort or Depp about the project's collapse or see any press or trade reports about the demise -- it pulls back the curtain more than I might have imagined. And it looks as if Gilliam's adaptation might have been spectacular, judging from the tiny bit of footage shot, the drawings that spring to animated life and the headless marionettes dancing before our eyes.

"Lost in La Mancha" is a lesson in how a movie unravels, one calamity at a time, and how the insurance adjusters and investors can pull the strings. The parallels between Don Quixote and Gilliam are obvious, although the director is left with a tiny measure of hope by the end. He may still be feverish with imagination and desire, but he's ready to face the giants ... once again.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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