Cannes: The irony of these words and the cussed Quixotic determination of director Terry Gilliam was not lost on anyone on Friday night when, at the relatively smaller Salle Bazin theatre at Cannes’ Palais des Festivals, his film, 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote', was shown to world press for the first time.
‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’, a film that has been in the making for 29 years and is often called "the most cursed production in cinematic history", opened with the warning that its rights “are subject to current court proceedings”, inviting boos, hoots and laughter from journalists.
Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, who worked with Gilliam on the film at some point, claims he too has rights to the movie and has sued Cannes organisers in a French court, insisting that the film not be screened. On Wednesday, a Paris court gave Cannes and Gilliam the go-ahead to show the film, with the caveat that the last leg of the court battle continues.
Gilliam’s film, which is an adaptation of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote and stars Jonathan Pryce (better known as High Sparrow in 'Game of Thrones') as Quixote and Adam Driver as Toby Grisoni/Sancho Panza, will premiere at Cannes as the festival’s closing film on Saturday night.
Gilliam's film, very American in its adaptation and narrative style, with a generous sprinkling of slapstick humour, is a grand, fun but silly spectacle. Most of its charm and significance lies in the stories of tragedies and mishaps the film has suffered repeatedly, including the death of two actors who, at different stages, were set to play Quixote.
Gilliam, now 77, first announced 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote' in 1998, at the premiere of his film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
However, due to funding issues, the shooting could begin only in 2000, with Johnny Depp playing Toby Grisoni, an American director of TV commercials who returns to a village in Spain 10 years after he had shot his student film there and meets the man who had played his Quixote, setting off the film’s chain of crazed events where he has to take on the role of Sancho Panza.
French actor Jean Rochefort was playing Quixote and Vanessa Paradis was the female lead.
But, on the first day of the shooting, the loud roar of jets from a nearby NATO airbase kept creating sound issues and the next day a violent storm struck the set, leading to flooding and equipment got washed away into a gully. By the time the set dried up, Jean Rochefort was hospitalised with a back injury. Few weeks later, Rochefort informed Gilliam that he would not be able to return. He died in October 2017 from a prostate infection.
This story, of Gilliam’s first star-crossed attempts to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, was turned into a documentary, ‘Lost in La Mancha’, by Keith Fluton and Louis Pepe. The film released in 2002.
Since then various names, from Robert Duvall to Ewan McGregor, from Gerard Depardieu to John Hurt, have been part of the project at various times. None could stay on due to various issues to see the film through. In September 2015, Hurt, who was to play Quixote, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away last year.
Speaking to the press at Cannes, Gilliam said, “I just kept going on and on. I’ve never been able to explain why I was so determined, obsessed to make it. After a point I realised that if you’re going to do Quixote you’ve got to become Quixote. You’ve got to have ups and downs.”
He Dreamed of Giants, a follow-up documentary by Fluton and Pepe, chronicling Gilliam’s post-2002 attempts to make Don Quixote as a parallel to Quixote's own quest to become a hero, is set to release alongside 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote'....