- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

"Lost in La Mancha" is a minor but ruefully intriguing addition to the expanding list of documentaries about the making of troubled or aborted feature films. Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, it has as its subject a Terry Gilliam adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" that collapsed after just a week of shooting in Spain in the late summer of 2000. It had been one of the cinematic fabulist's dream projects for more than a decade.
The directors, specialists in "The Making of …" promotional featurettes, are Temple University film school graduates who met Mr. Gilliam when he was shooting "Twelve Monkeys" in Philadelphia.
So many portentous comments are heard in the early going of Mr. Gilliam's ill-fated shoot that you get the impression the writing was on the wall and too legible to be ignored. For example, Mr. Gilliam confides, "The actors are gonna have to start turning up soon. There's a lot of potential for chaos."
Specifically, he's waiting for the French actor Jean Rochefort, his Quixote, and Johnny Depp, his Sancho Panza. They have other commitments that make it impossible for them to report for duty with Mr. Gilliam until shortly before the start of production.
That's not a desirable situation, but Mr. Gilliam doesn't have the financial clout to reserve their services during preproduction. He has agreed to a budget of $32 million (from European backers) out of desperation, knowing that it's half of what he needs and $8 million less than he had been promised. "This is no way to make a film," he observes at one point.
The plug is pulled on "Quixote" when Mr. Rochefort, too weakened by prostate problems to mount or sit astride a horse without suffering excruciating pain, returns to Paris, with no prospect of a speedy recovery and return.
Seeing him in full costume and mounted for a day or two of ill-fated production (intrusive F-16s from a nearby NATO base harass one day, and flash floods wash out the next), you understand why the director would take a chance on his frailty. "So beyond perfect," Mr. Gilliam reflects, and he's right.
Taken into the confidence of Mr. Gilliam and such associates as assistant director Phil Patterson and cinematographer Nicola Pecorina ("Terry overloads everything," he reflects at one point, anticipating problems with composition that will need to be solved), you can't help sharing their expectations and discouragement.
Even if, like me, you're no Gilliam enthusiast, it's hard not to root for him to regroup and get the film made. Inevitably, you appreciate the psychic costs involved when he concludes, "I've done the film too often in my head. Is it better to leave it there?"
Better, maybe. Cheaper, certainly. As Mr. Gilliam observes, a $32 million investment is "a very heavy film for European shoulders."

TITLE: "Lost in La Mancha"
RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, with occasional profanity)
CREDITS: Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Animation by Chaim Bianco. Editing by Jacob Bricca. Music by Miriam Cutler.
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

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