Once you see "Lost in La Mancha," you can't help but mourn its subject, the film that might have been.
That would be "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," which instead became one of the biggest fiascoes in the history of cinema.
This documentary, however, is one of the better behind-the-scenes explorations of filmmaking, capturing all the day-to-day minutia, as well as the bigger frustrations. And it's also an absolute must for fans of Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python member (he's the American one) and director of such films as "Time Bandits," "Brazil," "The Fisher King" and "Twelve Monkeys."
"Lost in La Mancha" catches up with Gilliam in 2000 as he attempts to mount a $32 million production based on Cervantes' famous character, with situations that take things a little further, to put it mildly. It's a dream project for Gilliam, one that he'd been trying to get made for more than a decade. But the box-office results of his film "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" has made him something of a Hollywood pariah, a risk the studios feel is not worth taking.
And maybe he shouldn't have undertaken the project, considering that "Don Quixote" is the movie equivalent of "Macbeth," bringing bad luck on all who attempt it. (Including Orson Welles, who never completed his version of the tale.)
Working with a limited budget (raised entirely by European backers) means the cast (including star Johnny Depp) is not on hand during pre-production. But that's only the start of numerous problems. The desert set has regular fly-overs from jets, and on the second day of shooting, a sudden storm and the resulting flash flood nearly wash away all the equipment and props.
Then there are problems with French actor Jean Rochefort, Gilliam's choice to play the windmill-tilting hero. He arrives late to the set with a series of ailments that has the filmmakers wondering whether they should recast his
part or perhaps scrap the film.
Actor Jeff Bridges (who worked with Gilliam on "The Fisher King") is the perfect choice for narrator. His low-key delivery is entirely appropriate for this material. And the movie lets the principals do most of the talking, especially Gilliam, who comes off as a misunderstood genius who is not the strongest of leaders.
"Lost in La Mancha" is rated R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity, violence (on-screen violence, such as a whipping) and use of crude sexual slang terms and vulgar gestures. Running time: 93 minutes.