Blue Finch Film Releasing presents the 20th-anniversary release of Lost in La Mancha, now available on digital.
Pursuing your dreams can be a path to glory or ruination. The film world has long chronicled these journeys; Herzog’s crucible on Fitzcarraldo was captured in Burden of Dreams, a rare case of a troubled production that led to a great film, while Apocalypse Now also shares this honour. On the other hand, you have tales of sheer disaster, projects that would never see the light of day, such as Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Lost in La Mancha lies in a strange middle ground between these extremes. Since the original release of this documentary, Gilliam finally filmed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; an Adam Driver led project that never rose to the lofty levels of Gilliam’s best work. Perhaps it was always more interesting as an unmade project?
The irony is that thanks to this documentary, the project had already paid off in terms of creating an excellent and insightful piece of entertainment. Lost in La Mancha chronicles the development of a film that would never see the light of day, from its pre-production jitters to a series of catastrophic show-stopping disasters that would end Quixote’s quest prematurely.
READ MORE: THE TRUE DON QUIXOTE
Throughout the documentary, Gilliam is rather lazily described by crew members as a Don Quixote-like figure himself, but this never really sticks. Quixote is a deluded dreamer, whereas Gilliam’s experiences of making films would paint him as anything but. His experiences on Brazil alone would guarantee that he was a man used to crushing disappointment and artistic clashes with studios, not a Quixotic naive man-child as he is described early in this doc. As a narrative through-line, it’s easily the weakest element of the film, a simple attempt to add poetic symmetry where none is required.
With his public fall from grace and loss of creative lustre, it’s painful to watch a young Johnny Depp, then at the peak of his career, so engrossed in the project. Coming off the back of their previous triumph, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s tragic that the power duo of Depp and Gilliam were robbed of a chance to work together again while that energy was so palpable. Indeed Gilliam would not make another film until the unfortunate double bill of 2005’s The Brother’s Grimm and Tideland. Despite the two being controversial figures, this version of Quixote undoubtedly would have had more bite than the eventual Adam Driver vehicle.
READ MORE: ANTOINE ET COLETTE
Perhaps the most significant loss is that of the potential of Jean Rochefort’s Quixote. A skilled horse rider who learned English specifically for the role, his wizened, dignified yet hilarious work seen here is incredibly promising, seeming like it would become the definitive Quixote performance. Alas, due to health concerns, he couldn’t ride the horse, showing apparent physical discomfort whenever required.
Lost in La Mancha successfully captures the highs and lows of the creative process and the crushing weight of a terrible failure that was so bitter for all involved. It’s refreshing to see such frank discussions of filmmaking on-set rather than the usual DVD special behind-the-scenes fluff, and it’s an amazing ode to the assistant directors who put their soul into trying to make the film work. While the doc struggles in reconciling Gilliam as a figure with Quixote, the character, his quest remains compelling all the same.