The True Don Quixote is available to rent or buy now.
Over the years, many directors have tried and failed to bring Don Quixote to the big screen, with their efforts mired in problems adapting Miguel de Cervantes’s novel for a modern audience. As a result, I think it’s fair to say I was unsure about The True Don Quixote before my viewing, with little hope of finding anything new or creative. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when Chris Poche’s first feature managed to do exactly that; his self-penned movie full of creativity and difference. Here its heartwarming mix of self-created fantasy, social fragility and mental health is both engaging and unique as we enter the imagination and world of Danny Kehoe (Tim Blake Nelson), an unemployed ex-librarian living with his niece Janelle (Ann Mahoney).
Poche smartly brings Cervantes’s novel into a modern-day setting with The True Don Quixote, a town that’s lost hope and care. Here, our brave hero Danny Kehoe desperately tries to save the books he loves as the local mobile library is removed, his mind slowly merging with the text surrounding him as he suffers a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, his niece, fearing for his health, burns the books as he sleeps. Her misguided belief that the stories in his possession are the problem only furthering his mental break from the world around him.
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As Danny wakes from his slumber, the books that were a part of his soul gone, he finally departs from the real world and becomes the medieval knight of his dreams, his mission to defeat injustice wherever it may reside set in stone. But as he battles his first dragon (an oil pump to you and me), Danny meets Kevin (Jacob Batalon), an unemployed young man desperate for escape. Of course, Kevin is soon renamed “Sancho” and promised money to act as Danny’s squire. The result is a mythical, tender, and loving quest as Danny and Kevin step forth into town, both desperate to find love, connection and meaning in a community that has lost all three.
With superb performances from Tim Blake Nelson and Jacob Batalon, the journey that ensues is tender and intimate as comedy is coupled with the deep emotion of one man’s community quest for rebirth. The resulting film may not answer all the questions it raises around community decline and socio-economic inequality. Still, it does reflect the need for escape and hope inherent in many small towns. Equally, The True Don Quixote asks us to reflect on the social stigmas associated with a mental breakdown.
Danny’s journey reminds us of just how fragile life can be, our notions of reality and fantasy narrowing as we become more and more isolated from those around us. The True Don Quixote undeniably wears its heart on its sleeve while joyously bathing in its creativity. Here, Poche’s film is funny, sad, loving and unique. And while it may not win the hearts of everyone watching, it quickly won mine.