The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a 2018 adventure-comedy film starring Adam Driver, directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, loosely based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Gilliam unsuccessfully attempted to make the film many times over the span of twenty-nine years, which made it an infamous example of development hell.
Gilliam started working on the film in 1989, but was unable to secure funding until 1998 when it entered full pre-production with a budget of $32.1 million without American financing, with Jean Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as Toby Grisoni, a 21st-century marketing executive thrown back through time, and Vanessa Paradis as the female lead. Shooting began in 2000 in Navarre, but a significant number of difficulties such as sets and equipment destroyed by flooding, the departure of Rochefort due to illness, problems obtaining insurance for the production, and other financial difficulties led to a sudden suspension of the production and its subsequent cancellation. The original production was the subject of the documentary film Lost in La Mancha, which was intended to be a making-of but was released on its own in 2002.
Gilliam made repeated attempts to relaunch production between 2003 and 2016, which included Depp, Ewan McGregor and Jack O'Connell as Toby Grisoni and Robert Duvall, Michael Palin, and John Hurt as Quixote. However, all ended up being cancelled for various reasons, such as failing to secure funds, Depp's busy schedule and eventual loss of interest in the project, and Hurt being diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually result in his death. After yet another failed attempt, it was unexpectedly reported in March 2017 that filming had finally started, with Driver, who was confirmed in 2016 and helped secure funding as Grisoni, and Jonathan Pryce as Quixote. On 4 June Gilliam announced that the shooting of the film was complete, 17 years after it originally started.
The film premiered on 19 May 2018, simultaneously acting as the closing film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and being released in French theaters. Gilliam has struggled to release The Man Who Killed Don Quixote worldwide since then, partially due to a lengthy legal dispute with former producer Paulo Branco, and the film was only released in a few other countries. On 17 December 2018, the film was confirmed for a US release in March 2019.
Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver), an advertising director, is struggling with the production of a commercial featuring Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in rural Spain. Whilst in a restaurant after an unsuccessful day of shooting, Toby's superior the Boss (Stellan Skarsgård) recommends he find inspiration and brings over a Gypsy (Óscar Jaenada) who sells him an old DVD of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an amateur black-and-white film that Toby coincidentally wrote and directed ten years ago as a student. Nostalgic, Toby watches the film whilst having sex with the Boss' wife Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko) in a hotel room. When the Boss returns, Toby frantically escapes, taking the DVD whilst managing to disguise himself by wearing the Gypsy's hat that Jacqui took.
A flashback shows Toby's production of his student film, casting an elderly cobbler called Javier (Jonathan Pryce) as Don Quixote and becoming smitten with teenager waitress Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), whom he envisions will be famous one day, despite being under the watchful eye of her father and café owner, Raul (Hovik Keuchkerian). Javier is initially reluctant to play the role, having very poor fighting abilities and ignoring Toby's directions, but becomes enamoured with the role after Angelica is pranked by one of Toby's crew. After an extravagant display of sword fighting, Javier exclaims that he is Don Quixote.
The next day, Toby finds that the shooting location of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is not far from where he is currently filming, and after having a tense conversation with the Boss about the previous night Toby takes a motorbike and travels to the town of Los Sueños. Finding an older Raul, Toby discovers that things have changed since he shot the film, with Angelica away from the countryside to pursue her dreams. Toby also discovers that Javier has become utterly convinced that he is Don Quixote, holed up in a tourist attraction and mistakes Toby for Sancho Panza. Through a series of accidents, Don Quixote causes a fire that spreads to the town as Toby escapes on the motorbike.
Returning to the set, Toby is once again encountered by the Boss who is accompanied by the police with the Gypsy, who the Boss has blamed for breaking into Jacqui's hotel room. As Toby was meant to be taking care of Jacqui, he quickly identifies the Gypsy as the guilty party. The police officers soon notice that Toby's bike was the same one that was around Los Sueños and take him in for questioning. En route, they encounter Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante, who sees Toby and demands that the officers release him. When they try to move him along, Quixote attacks them, culminating in one of the officers getting shot and the Gypsy stealing the police car. Toby runs off to a nearby garbage heap, where he is found by Quixote. Supplying him with a donkey and clothes from the film, Quxiote guides Toby to find adventures.
Stopping by the road to educate Toby on his adventures, Quixote notices a windmill and believes it is a giant attacking a woman. Receiving a head wound after being knocked by one of the windmill's blades, Quixote and Toby are led by the woman to a decrepit ruin occupied by impoverished people. The leader, Barbero (Sergi López), welcomes them warmly but locks them in an attic. That night, Toby comes to suspect that they are secretly terrorists that will hold them as hostages, but soon finds that the ruin has transformed into a 17th-century village. Hiding from guards that are looking for him, Toby manages to evade them when the Gypsy reappears. Toby awakens the next morning, the night's events having seemingly been a dream, and that the residents are not terrorists but illegal immigrants who are trying to get by.
Moving on with Quixote, Toby stumbles upon a bag of old Spanish gold and attempts to hide it, but accidentally falls down a ravine into a cave behind a waterfall. There he encounters Angelica, who tells him that she works as a model and escort, and the "property" of Alexei Miiskin, a Russian vodka company owner who the Boss is attempting to proposition a business deal with. Quixote finds Toby, but Angelica is forced to go when one of Miiskin's subordinates takes pictures of her and Toby. Demanding that they try and rescue Angelica, Toby sets off with Quixote, but ends up running into the Knight of Mirrors, who Quixote jousts. The Knight takes off his helmet, revealing Raul who, along with several of the Los Sueños townspeople, are trying to get Javier to come home. Becoming disorientated, Quixote rides off, whilst Raul impulsively punches Toby for indirectly causing his daughter to leave him.
Waking up, Toby eventually finds Quixote whipping himself with thorns to prove his love to Dulcinea del Toboso. Healing his wounds by a river, Toby is met by Jacqui on horseback, dressed extravagantly for a costume party by Miiskin. Dragging Quixote along for entertainment, Toby rides to Miiskin's castle, and sees firsthand the Russian's cruel treatment of Angelica. Quixote is welcomed as if he is the literary character, and is humiliated by Miiskin and the Boss to a crowd of people. Remorseful over Angelica's predicament, Toby convinces her to escape with him, stealing horses to ride away. He also tries to convince Quixote to leave, but he has become despondent and resigned to stay in the castle. Angelica is captured by Miiskin's guards, whilst Toby is knocked out when he falls off his horse to save her.
Toby reawakens and tries to find Angelica, led on by the Gypsy to a high room. The Angelica in the room is revealed to be Jacqui in a mask who tries to seduce Toby and that the real Angelica is being burned alive by Miiskin. The Boss, seeing that his wife is having an affair with Toby, runs up to the room. Mirroring the hotel room incident, Toby readies to fight with the Boss, but the man who comes through the door is in fact Quixote, who Toby accidentally knocks out of the window. Dying on the ground, Quixote is consoled by Toby and gives him his sword, telling him that he is proud of him. Angelica's burning is shown to be fake and Quixote dies whilst Toby shouts that he can't be.
The next morning, Angelica and Toby are taking Javier's corpse back to Los Sueños to be buried. On the way, near the set of Toby's commercial, he suddenly envisions himself as Don Quixote, fighting off three giants that are shown to be windmills. Toby falls from a blade and seemingly dies whilst Angelica tries to save him. Calling herself Sancho Panza, Toby reawakens and rides off with Angelica into the sunset as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, as his and Quixote's closing narration overlap.
- Adam Driver as Toby Grisoni, an advertising executive who comes back to the village where he filmed his student film ten years ago, and whom Quixote mistakes for his trusted squire Sancho Panza. Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, and Jack O'Connell were all previously cast in the role.
- Jonathan Pryce as "Don Quixote", an old Spanish shoemaker named Javier who played the part of Quixote in Grisoni's old student film, but has since become convinced he is actually the famous literature character. John Cleese, Jean Rochefort, Michael Palin, Robert Duvall, and John Hurt were all previously cast in the role; Pryce was also a part of the original 2000 production, in a different role.
- Stellan Skarsgård as The Boss, Toby's superior.
- Olga Kurylenko as Jacqui, the Boss' wife.
- Joana Ribeiro as Angelica, a young woman who played a minor role in Grisoni's film ten years ago.
- Óscar Jaenada as the Gypsy, a mysterious character who keeps crossing paths with Grisoni.
- Jason Watkins as Rupert, Toby's ambitious agent.
- Sergi López as the Farmer
- Rossy de Palma as The Farmer's Wife
- Hovik Keuchkerian as Raul
- Jordi Mollà as Alexei Miiskin, a cruel oligarch.
Terry Gilliam first read the novel in 1989, and started conceptualizing an adaptation right away. He saw a personal project in adapting Don Quixote, as it embodies many of the themes that run through his own work—such as the individual versus society, and the concept of sanity. Instead of a literal adaptation, Gilliam's film was about "an old, retired, and slightly kooky nobleman named Alonso Quixano [who] reads too many chivalric romances. Taking leave of his senses, he sets out to fix the world and revive chivalry, clad in makeshift armor and accompanied by a donkey-owning farmer named Sancho Panza, who serves as his squire".
Gilliam signed a deal with Phoenix Pictures as the studio to make the film in 1990 under the name Don Quixote. Sean Connery was in talks to star as Quixote, but Gilliam disliked the idea because "Quixote is air and Sean is earth". Nigel Hawthorne and Danny DeVito were also in talks to star as Quixote and Panza respectively. However, Gilliam ultimately decided that the budget the studio offered him was too low and dropped from the project to focus on The Defective Detective, another film he ultimately failed to make. Phoenix Pictures chose Fred Schepisi to replace Gilliam, with John Cleese as Quixote and Robin Williams as Panza, and Steven Haft, Quincy Jones and David Salzman as producers. This version would have been based on an old screenplay by Waldo Salt. However, it was officially cancelled in 1997.
In 1997, Gilliam stated "The years I wasted on this one! I was so frustrated with Hollywood, I went after European money, needing $20 million. And they said, 'You're on.' But I found out I needed more money. [...] That really hurts, that I let a project I'm convinced I'm the best director on the planet to do, slip by."
Original aborted production (1998–2000)
After Schepisi's project collapsed, Gilliam resumed working on the film with co-writer Tony Grisoni, giving it the new name The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Instead of featuring a man named Alonso Quixano and Sancho Panza, this new version would instead feature Toby Grisoni (a character whose name is based on Tony Grisoni's), a 21st-century marketing executive thrown back through time and who meets Don Quixote. Their version would also have borrowed elements from Mark Twain's 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, including its time travel elements; after having failed Don Quixote's original attempt, Gilliam had unsuccessfully tried to adapt A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court into a film.
Gilliam officialized Don Quixote to be his next project at the UK premiere of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1998, with pre-production starting the same year. Gilliam, tired with Hollywood wanting creative control on his films, had decided to make the film in Europe instead, which according to him was "one big monstrous problem". It was set to have been one of the biggest continental European films ever made, with a budget of $32.1 million that had been scaled back from an original $40 million, and would have been filmed in Spain and throughout Europe. It was to have been one of Gilliam's most ambitious films, produced without any American financing; according to Gilliam, this budget was "half the money we need". René Cleitman was one of the film's producers. At the time, Gilliam stated "I hope it's going to be fun. It's been such a long slog to get to this point today." Working Title Films were offered the project, but turned it down because of the needed budget.
Jean Rochefort was picked to play Don Quixote, in preparation for which he spent seven months learning English. Toby Grisoni was to be played by Johnny Depp, who had starred in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Vanessa Paradis would have been his love interest. Other actors who were to appear in the film included Miranda Richardson, Christopher Eccleston, Rossy de Palma, Jonathan Pryce, and Sally Phillips.
Filming and cancellation
Filming started in September 2000, with Nicola Pecorini as cinematographer. The first location shoot was at Bardenas Reales, a scenic, barren area in Navarre, Spain, near a NATO military base. Shortly before filming, the crew unexpectedly found out that several actors had conflicting schedules that would not match each other, making it unsure how and when to film scenes that would feature those same actors at the same time. On the very first day of shooting, F-16 fighter aircraft flew overhead repeatedly, ruining the audio recording and mandating a later re-dubbing in post-production. A flash flood then followed on the second day of filming, washing away and destroying significant portions of equipment and changing the color of the barren cliffs, making previously filmed material unusable due to continuity issues. The crew spent the next days trying to recover the equipment or obtain new one, but it eventually turned out that the film's insurance did not cover the damage caused by the flood. Several actors also did not show up on set for filming.
On the fifth day, filming resumed, but when Rochefort, an able horseman, attempted to ride and act, he was obviously wincing in pain, and required assistance dismounting and walking; he notably suffered from prostate issues, which proved very problematic when riding a horse. This made the newly filmed footage unusable, as Rochefort's pain was obvious on camera, and production was suspended while Rochefort flew hurriedly to his doctor in Paris, where he was additionally diagnosed with a double herniated disc. For several days the crew attempted to shoot scenes that did not involve Rochefort – including a scene with Depp at Monasterio de Piedra – but as time passed, it became unclear whether Rochefort would be able to return or not. Pecorini stated at the time "Never in 22 years of being in this business have I seen such a sum of bad luck." Gilliam was very disappointed by this, as he had spent two years trying to cast the perfect actor for Quixote. Despite his continued efforts, production was finally cancelled in November 2000.
Later attempts (2003–16)
After the production had been cancelled, an insurance claim was filed on behalf of the film's investors. US$15 million were reportedly paid, and the rights to the screenplay passed on to the insurance companies. Since 2003, Gilliam kept on trying to make the film, but to no avail. His first new attempt, six months after the release of Lost in La Mancha, was quickly turned down. In 2005, Gilliam voiced his interest in re-casting the role of Don Quixote with Gérard Depardieu. The film quickly gaining the reputation of being cursed, notably after the release of Lost in La Mancha, made it even harder for Gilliam to find financial support.
In the meantime, Gilliam made other films, stating, "Every film I've done since then has been because I couldn't get Quixote made." Those other productions mostly collapsed, like the Nicolas Cage-led The Defective Detective or an adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's novel Good Omens (which was cancelled after the September 11 attacks due to his content judged too dark), or were also met with significant issues: he notably clashed with producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein on the making of The Brothers Grimm, leading to them firing his cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, and had to replace The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus's lead actor Heath Ledger after his death halfway through filming.
In July 2006, after nearly six years of legalities between the French producers and German insurers, the issue over the rights was settled. Terry Gilliam announced this at the Munich International Documentary Film Festival, saying that the production company was willing to give Gilliam the rights, and that Jeremy Thomas was still interested in producing. In August 2006, Gilliam indicated at a post-screening Q&A for Tideland that the complex legal case concerning the film's collapse was finally being wrapped up, and that the rights to the script would hopefully be given back to Gilliam and co-writer Grisoni in the near future. He stated his intention to completely reshoot the film.
Johnny Depp was at times still connected to the project, but it remained unclear if Depp's filming schedule would have allowed for his participation and if he wanted to join the production at all. During a press junket in 2009 for his film Public Enemies, Depp stated:
[Gilliam and I] have talked about it. But to be honest, the thing about Terry... I love Terry, and I'd do anything the guy wants to do. But with Quixote... my dance card is pretty nutty for the next couple of years. So I'd hate to put him in a position—or ask to be in a position—where he'd have to wait for me. That would be wrong. But also, I feel like we went there and tried something, and whatever it was—the elements and all the things that got up underneath us—were there and happened and were documented well in that film Lost in La Mancha. So I don't know if it's right for me to go back there. I don't know if it's right for Terry too, but if he wants to...
In 2008, Gilliam restarted preliminary work on a new version of the film. The film would be reshot completely, and Rochefort's role had been recast. In 2008, Michael Palin reportedly entered talks with Gilliam to step in for Rochefort and play Don Quixote. In November 2009, Gilliam said he had finished re-casting the role, but he refused to disclose the actor's identity. In a December 2009 interview with Collider, Robert Duvall claimed on-camera to be Gilliam's new choice for Don Quixote; this was later confirmed by Gilliam, with Depp still attached to co-star as Grisoni. Since Depp was signed for two Disney films, further production delays were suspected, but commencement of shooting was scheduled for early 2010. Whether the production timetable would have been maintained is unknown, because Depp stated that he would not make room in his tight schedule for Gilliam's film. Depp even noted that he was not sure if he wanted to revisit the revived film project at all. The film was to be produced by Jeremy Thomas for Recorded Picture Company. International sales would have been handled by HanWay Films. On 17 May 2010, it was announced Ewan McGregor had been cast in the film.
Gilliam entered main pre-production once again in 2009. After finally retrieving the rights to the screenplay, Gilliam and Grisoni started to rewrite the plot in January 2009 and hoped to be finished within a month. In 2010, Gilliam stated that primary casting was finalised, with Duvall and McGregor still attached; however on 5 September of the same year, he revealed that funding had collapsed a month and half earlier and as a result shooting was delayed. By 2012, Duvall was still potentially attached to the film, but not McGregor, with Tony Grisoni commenting the same year "Us survivors of Don Q are a strange kind of dysfunctional family. Every year since we have rewritten the screenplay. And we've got quite good at it. You will be pleased to hear the Don is back up and in the saddle and ready to ride under new colours." In November 2013 during the promotion of The Zero Theorem at the Venice Film Festival, Gilliam told Variety "I'm going to try to do it again, [...] We'll see if it happens. I just want to make it and get rid of it. Get it out of my life."
In January 2014, Gilliam published on his Facebook page that "Dreams of Don Quixote have begun again. [...] Will we get the old bastard back on his horse this year?" In an interview with Empire's website, Gilliam stated that production would start up again 29 September 2014 in the Canary Islands. Spanish producer Adrián Guerra was on board to fund the project. Gilliam said of Guerra, "He's really smart, loves movies. He's young enough to still love movies, but we've still got to cast it and get the money but other than that, that's the deal." New concept art by Gilliam collaborator Dave Warren was also released. In August 2014, in an interview with TheWrap, Gilliam revealed that he had received funding, and that the plot of the film has changed: "Our main character actually made a Don Quixote movie a lot earlier in his history, and the effect it had on many people wasn't very nice. Some people go mad, some people turn to drink, some people become whores." In September 2014, actor John Hurt confirmed he'd become attached to the film as the titular role of Quixote, replacing Robert Duvall.
In a September 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Gilliam said that making Don Quixote next "[...] is my plan, but plans have nothing to do with reality. We shall see what happens. I really can't say anything at the moment, because there's been a little hiccup — once again. The Sisyphean rock that keeps rolling back. Just as we almost get to the top of the mountain... We'll see what happens. I'm not a happy camper at the moment." When asked why he continues to attempt making the film, Gilliam said, "Oh, I don't know, pigheadedness, stupid – I really don't know anymore. I'm beginning to actually think, 'If it doesn't work this time, I'm gonna dump it.' I've wasted far too much of my life doing it. If you're going to do Quixote, you have to become as mad as Quixote. [...] I've wasted how many years? Fifteen? Yeah, there's a certain point. It's kind of the determination to be crazy and unreasonable. Every intelligent person around me says, 'Walk away from it.' But those are reasonable people." In November 2014, Jack O'Connell was cast as Grisoni. Commenting on the changes on the script compared to the original version, Gilliam stated, "It all takes place now, it's contemporary. It's more about how movies can damage people."
On 9 June 2015, Gilliam obtained a deal with Amazon Studios to release the film theatrically, followed by a streaming Amazon début. Gilliam said of the deal: "I'm intrigued by their way of doing it. They go into the cinemas first and then a month or two afterwards they go into streaming. And I think that's good because you get a chance to see it on the big screen, and yet I know that more people have seen my films on DVD than they have in the cinemas and that's the reality of life now." In September 2015, the film's production was suspended once again, due to Hurt being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before filming. He eventually died from his cancer on 25 January 2017. Gilliam paid homage to him on Facebook, stating, "Sadly, the earthly marvel that was John Hurt has departed us. Two years ago, he and I were off to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote when he was diagnosed with a particularly evil brand of cancer. Despite the terrible prognosis he was determined to carry on working. And he did. Right to the final curtain. In the end, cancer was the windmill that he couldn't defeat. John was not just a phenomenal actor, but a wickedly wonderful human being. I felt honoured to be a friend." That same year, original Quixote portrayer Jean Rochefort also passed away. Gilliam also paid homage to him: "When I saw him a couple of years ago he seemed to be growing younger, not older. I imagined that, like Quixote, he was capable of living forever. That he should be gone is unbelievably sad. Farewell, Jean."
With Paulo Branco as producer (2016)
At the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016, Gilliam, in need of a minimum 16 million euros for the budget in order to make the film, was introduced to Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, who promised that he would obtain the needed budget by September, a few weeks before they would start the eleven weeks-long shoot.
With the film having entered pre-production once again, Gilliam cast Palin as Quixote, Adam Driver as Grisoni, and Olga Kurylenko as the female lead. Reportedly, Driver would have been paid 610,000 euros for the film, with Palin being paid 285,000 euros. Both of them took equitation lessons for the film shortly after being hired. Gilliam hired his daughter Amy Gilliam as unit production manager. The new version would be set in modern day, with Grisoni as a director shooting a commercial and coming across a copy of his old student film, a re-telling of the famous Don Quixote story, which leads him back to the little Spanish village where he shot it back in the days, only to get embroiled in a series of adventures and catastrophes.
Tensions soon arose, with Branco wanting creative control over the project; however, and despite having been warned against working with Branco, Gilliam believed that he had no other choice than to collaborate with him if he wanted Don Quixote to be filmed in the year, encouraged by Branco's successful financing of David Cronenberg's 2012 film Cosmopolis. Similarly, Branco felt that Gilliam had "a deep hate towards producers". Shortly before the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Amazon withdrew from the project because of Branco's reputation as producer, with Amazon representative Matthew Heintz sending a mail stating that "in regard of the interactions we had with [Branco], we do not wish to pursue further negotiations with him". Nevertheless, Gilliam stated during the Cannes Film Festival that the film would start shooting in October 2016.
Conflict escalated further when Branco tried to reduce the budget down from the promised 16 million. He also cut Palin's pay from 285,000 euros to 100,000 euros, which deeply angered Palin; when Gilliam wrote to Branco to complain that Palin's unexpected salary cut felt like a "slap on the face", Branco answered that the film needed "a true producer", referring to himself as the "captain" of the project. On 29 April 2016, Gilliam signed a deal where in exchange for producing the film, Branco would earn, in addition to his own salary, the salary of 750,000 euros Gilliam would have been paid for writing and directing the film. In addition to severing ties with several other production companies interested in the project, Branco soon tried to reduce the salaries of other crew members, including the hair stylist, the assistant director, and Amy Gilliam. He also tried to push Palin away from the project, considering him too old, to have his own sister hired as costume designer, to have filming moved forward by several months, and to have the film shot in digital instead of the 35 mm Gilliam wanted. Some of the film's other producers and its distributor stated that Branco told Gilliam "Either you make this film my way, or you irremediably compromise the feasibility of the project and your film is condemned. It will never see the light of day."
Ultimately, Branco did not provide the promised funds for the film. When Gilliam complained, Branco answered that he "would not accept this kind of spoiled kid behavior." On 6 August, Branco sent a mail to Gilliam urging him to accept his conditions, including a reduced budget, and to give Branco full creative control over the project, threatening to cancel the project altogether and fire the entire crew and cast otherwise. Terry Gilliam answered that those demands were unacceptable, and "incompatible with the contract I have signed", while Amy Gilliam called Branco's actions "the behavior of a tyrant and a bully". In response, Branco officially suspended production on 2 October. Gilliam kept on working, however, with new producers, stating, "We should be here [at the Cannes Film Festival] next year with the finished film, and then you can ask me why I made such a mess of it or why I made such a wonderful film."
Final production (2016–2018)
Over the years, Gilliam and Grisoni kept on re-writing The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as they kept on trying to make the film. The most notable change was the removal of the time travelling element present central to the original 2000 production; instead of the character of Grisoni being thrown back through time, the film would instead take place in modern times, with the "period elements" being characters having a party dressed like in the ancient times. Grisoni would be revisiting a Spanish village he had once filmed a student film in, and discover that the shoemaker he had cast in the title role all those years ago has been living as Quixote ever since.
Gilliam stated, "I'm incorporating the idea of the damage that films do to people, so it's become a bit more autobiographical." Jonathan Pryce, who was a part of both the original and final productions, stated "from what I can remember of the original script, this is an altogether better version. It's a clearer story. Terry's done a lot of rewrites – and he's had a lot of time to do rewrites."
After Gilliam found new producers, he started production once again. Driver and Kurylenko were still attached as Grisoni and the female lead, with Pryce cast as Don Quixote. Pryce had previously starred in Gilliam's films Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and The Brothers Grimm (2005), and was also cast in the original 2000 production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in a different role. Gilliam stated, "Jonathan has been wanting to [play Quixote] for 15 years – he's been making my life a misery. And now he's here and he's just extraordinary. The editor, who is Spanish, says that she can never imagine another Quixote. So it's as if the time was right: everything seemed to be ready to make this thing."
Gilliam stated that Driver was the perfect cast choice for Grisoni, calling him "the guy I've been looking for all these years." Cast members later announced included Joana Ribeiro, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Watkins, Rossy de Palma, and Jordi Mollà.
Having found new producers who obtained the needed budget, Gilliam unexpectedly announced in March 2017 that filming had started for the first time since the original 2000 attempt; the announcements of Pryce's role, and Driver and Kurylenko still being attached to their roles, soon followed.
During filming in May, Gilliam stated "In the end, we're doing this for much less money than we honestly need. But everyone involved, from the cast to the crew, are all working their asses off for a fraction of what they would normally be paid, because they just want to see this thing done. It's odd how being obsessive and not giving up can inspire other people to get involved. Fools that they are!" He also stated "It was terrifying starting shooting this film finally after, well it originally started in 1989. That's a long time ago! To be thinking, dreaming it, writing and rewriting it, it was a horrible feeling... Yet what's interesting about a film - at a certain point it starts making itself. So it's not actually the film I set out to make. This is a slightly different film. It's doing its own work, and I'm just holding on for dear life!" Driver stated that "Terry couldn't control his enthusiasm, nor how deeply ingrained this movie was within his body. It seemed like an exorcism, every day we were making it." During filming, Gilliam commented on how well they were doing: "I still worry. We've had too much luck, so it could go wrong at any moment. Today, the clouds are building. They'll probably block out the light and we'll have to go home."
In November 2017, Gilliam stated that editing was nearly complete: "We're just fiddling now, figuring out a few things here and there so it's pretty much what it is. We've got still months of work to do on visual effects, sound, music. But as far as the tale, it's pretty tight now and it's surprisingly wonderful". On 23 December he stated "The year is almost finished.. and so is The Man Who Killed Don Quixote."
Convent of Christ controversy
During filming in Portugal, Gilliam's team was accused of damaging public properties, as well as the Convent of Christ, a notable convent in Tomar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The accusation came from a report by Portuguese news channel RTP1, who stated that the crew had "left behind chipped masonry, broken roof tiles and uprooted trees at the 12th-century Convent of Christ in Tomar, central Portugal." Gilliam denied the accusations, stating, "I think the Convent of Christ is one of the most glorious buildings I have ever seen. Everything we did there was to protect the building from harm... and we succeeded. Trees were not cut down, stones were not broken. [...] There was not an iota of disrespect involved. People should begin by getting the facts before howling hysterically." An investigation by the Portuguese government took place during the following weeks to determine if the news report was accurate, with the presence of "some damage" being acknowledged, which was catalogued by the convent officials who monitored the filming. The destruction of the trees was determined to have occurred during the production of an earlier, unrelated film. On 4 July 2017, Portuguese authorities ruled that Gilliam's crew was only responsible for "insignificant damage", adding that the accusations "lacked rigor and revealed a lack of scientific knowledge".
Legal dispute with Paulo Branco
Paulo Branco, a former producer of the film, stated in June 2017 that this new version was "illegal" and that he, not Gilliam, owned the rights to the film, and that as such, any content shot for the film was the property of Alfama Films, one of the film's former production companies. Branco was a producer on the film during Gilliam's previous attempt at making it in 2016, and was supposed to find funds for the film; in exchange, Gilliam would give his salary as writer-director to Branco. Eventually, Branco did not provide the funds promised and suspended production only a few weeks before filming, leading Gilliam to find other producers with whom he was able to make the film. However, Branco claimed that he still owned the rights and was still owed Gilliam's salary despite not providing financial backing for the film as planned: according to Gilliam and the film's producers, he asked to be paid a total of 3.5 million euros, with 2 million before the release and 1.5 million afterwards.
Considering that Branco's failure to secure funds nullified their deal, Gilliam tried to have the legal contract invalidated in court twice in early 2017, once in Paris and once in London, so he could use the money from his salary to make the film; however, the court ruled in Branco's favor both times. In spring 2017, Gilliam attempted once again to nullify the contract, but the court of first instance ruled against it. Branco also accused Gilliam of having obtained the new funds for the film illegally, which Gilliam denied, claiming that HM Revenue and Customs was well-aware of the nature of said funds.
The film's current producers answered that Branco's claims were "preposterous" and that he had "no rights whatsoever to Don Quixote". Recorded Picture Company CEO Peter Watson stated, "Senhor Branco's interpretation of the law borders on the picaresque. If he really wants to kill the venerable don, I suggest he takes up jousting." Gilliam himself stated that Branco "wallows in his dark twisted madness dreaming megalomanic triumphs while spreading lies and threats", while Branco stated that Gilliam was "mad and mythomaniac".
As of April 2018, Branco still claimed that the film could not be released without his permission, leading to the issue being debated in court; as the result, the premiere of the film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival was cancelled. Both Gilliam's lawyer and Océan Films, the French distributor of the film, stated that Branco was actively trying to prevent the film from being included in festivals to pressure the producers into paying him so the issue could be settled in time for festivals, with Océan Films stating that Branco "was never, is not and never will be the producer of Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote" and adding that the producers and distributors "would not yield to this attempt at intimidation". They also stated that Branco had previously attempted to have filming cancelled, but that his claim had been rejected by the court on 19 May 2017.
The verdict was originally expected to be delivered on 15 May 2018, but was later delayed to 18 May, one day only before the possible release, where it was ultimately ruled that the film would be authorized to premiere in French cinemas. Branco immediately stated that he would keep on pursuing legal action against Gilliam and the film's release.
Additionally, Branco was also trying to prevent the film from premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, with a hearing taking place on 7 May to decide whether or not the film would be authorized to air at the festival. On 9 May, it was announced that the film would be allowed to premiere at Cannes.
The festival's organizers answered Branco's claims by stating, "The Festival de Cannes' mission is to choose works purely on artistic grounds and the selection must, above all, be with the agreement of the film's director. This is the case here. Past experience had made us aware of possible legal action and of the risks we were running, but as it happens, when we took our decision, there was no opposition to the screening of the film at the festival." They added, "Our entire profession knows that 'forcing matters' has always been Mr. Branco's favorite method, and we should recall that he organized a press conference a few years ago where he denounced the Festival de Cannes because it had not kept a 'promise to select' one of his films. This was an accusation which didn't go anywhere, because the festival does not make promises to select films."
In June 2018, the Paris Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Branco owning all rights to the film; Branco explained that he will seek damages from not only Gilliam (who the Court demanded pay €10,000 ($11,600) to Branco's production company), but to all parties involved in the making, completion, promotion, and screenings of the film: "The ruling means that the rights to the film belong to Alfama. Any exploitation of the film up until now has been completely illegal and without the authorisation of Alfama," said Branco. "We will be seeking damages with interest from all the people involved in this illegal production and above all, all those who were complicit in its illegal exploitation. We're holding everyone responsible. [...] the film's producers, [Paris-based sales company and producer] Kinology, all the others who supported the film, including those who distributed the film in France [Ocean Films] and the Cannes Film Festival, everyone." Branco said he found it "astounding" that all these parties had continued with the production and exploitation of the film without holding the rights. "The film belongs in its entirety to Alfama. The film was made illegally. It's the first time, I've ever seen so many people embark on a mission to produce and exploit a film, without holding the rights. It's a unique case."
Later that month, it was reported that although the Court ruled in favor of Branco, producer Mariela Busuievsky clarified that Gilliam in fact still retains the rights to the film, saying that Branco, as is common practice for him, overstated his victory in the ruling. Gilliam never shot a frame of the film under the deal with Branco, and as such, the former producer does not own any rights. However, since Gilliam did a poor job of terminating his contract with Branco, there will be a financial settlement that will have to be made between the two parties and the ex-producer has been using this to claim a right to the finished film. Busuievsky went on to say that the latest ruling does say that Gilliam owes €10,000 and there will probably be more money required to settle. However, these financial issues don't affect the film's release. According to the producer, they chose to remain quiet about the actual major details because it didn't feel necessary, but when Branco went public with his victory and claimed rights to the film, they felt they had to step forward and air all the "dirty laundry." The producer says they are making plans for European territories now, and the US distribution will be coming shortly. She says that "there are many options" in regards to US distributors.
The first image of the film, showing Don Quixote and Toby Grisoni riding horses, was released on 21 February 2018. The first trailer was released for the French market on 5 April, featuring French text and subtitles, followed by an English-language trailer the following day.
Paulo Branco, whose legal dispute with Gilliam prevented the film from competing for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, attempted to prevent the film from both being released in France and from being shown at Cannes. A hearing took place on 7 May to debate if the film could be shown at the festival, with the decision expected two days later. On 9 May, the court ruled in favor of the film being shown at Cannes. On May 18, court ruled in Gilliam's favor once again and authorized the film to be released in French theaters the following day; it would have a limited release, and would be shown in 255 theaters across the country. Critics at the Cannes Film Festival received an early screening the day before the release.
On 8 May 2018, despite contributing significant funding to the production, Amazon Studios confirmed that they would no longer distribute the film in the United States. It was released in Spain on 1 June.
The film premiered in Belgium on 20 June at the Brussels international Film Festival, before being released nationwide on 25 June. It will be released in China via the Turbo Film production company. On 17 September, Gilliam announced that the film would premiere in the United States on 20 September at Fantastic Fest; no nationwide release has been announced.
Critical response for the film at the Cannes Film Festival was mostly positive. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 63%, based on 25 reviews with an average rating of 5.7/10. Metacritic gives the film a weighted average rating of 54 out of 100, based on 10 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Peter Dubruge with Variety magazine called the film "a loud, belligerent, barely coherent mess", stating "the result feels like evidence of someone [Gilliam] who spent too long obsessing over Don Quixote, losing sight somewhere along the way of whatever attracted him in the first place." Gregory Ellwood at Collider felt that the film "simply doesn’t live up to its storied legacy in the annals of Hollywood film development", giving it a C rating.
Ben Croll writing for TheWrap called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote "an awful lot of fun. Of course, the fun can be far from perfect. The film is also messy and hysterical in places, and by running an exhausting 132 minutes, it rather insistently overstays its welcome [...] We’re so thrilled by the film’s improbable existence that we’re willing to go wherever Gilliam wants to take us, but respond with an extra degree of disappointment whenever he stumbles along the way." He summarized by saying "It’s too much, it’s out of step with today and it’s oddly endearing."
Robbie Collin for The Telegraph felt that "even when the film feels like a circuitous, effortful mess, it’s often an intentional one – and for everything in the film that doesn’t quite connect, that element of self-portraiture, with the artist as sap, strikes a wistful chord. [...] Driver and Pryce fling themselves at everything with beady resolve, just as Gilliam gives it everything he has. Around 50 percent of it sticks – and to pretend the film was any more successful than that would do a disservice to this director’s truly great films, not least Brazil. But after everything Quixote has been through, 50 percent feels like enough." Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian stated: "It may not be Gilliam’s masterpiece, but it is a movie with sprightliness, innocence and charm and it is a morale boost to anyone who cares about creativity that Gilliam has got the film made at all. His own intelligence and joy in his work shine out of every frame, and his individuality is a delight when so much of mainstream cinema seems to have been created by algorithm."
|Goya Awards||2 February 2019||Best Art Direction||Benjamín Fernández||Pending|||
|Best Production Supervision||Yousaf Bokhari||Pending|
|Best Costume Design||Lena Mossum||Pending|
|Best Makeup and Hairstyles||Sylvie Imbert, Amparo Sánchez and Pablo Perona||Pending|
|Best Original Song||"Tarde azul de abril" – Roque Baños and Tessy Díez Martín||Pending|
|Munich International Film Festival||7 July 2018||Best International Film||Terry Gilliam||Nominated|
In the years that followed its original cancellation, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote became widely recognized as one of the most infamous examples of development hell in film history, and as one of the most famous films never made, even gaining the reputation of being cursed. IndieWire called the film "one of the most troubled productions in the history of cinema", while /Film believed they "could write a book about the movie's problems", stating "Heaven and hell seemed to unite in defiance of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote".
Commenting on the making of the film, The Guardian commented on "Mr Gilliam's visionary project disintegrating like a slow-motion car crash. The double hernia and slipped disc that zonked his lead actor, Jean Rochefort, the flash floods that swept away his camera equipment, the overhead Nato jets which wrecked his soundtrack, the actors who didn't show up, and finally, the implacable money-men who declared that the star's indisposition was not covered by insurance as it was an Act of God. The Act of a furious Old Testament God with a serious grudge against Terry Gilliam". Geeks of Doom called the film's failure a "legendary collapse", while BBC stated that the film is "synonymous with sustained and calamitous misfortune".
When the final film encountered legal issues due to the dispute with Paulo Branco in 2018, several journalists commented on the issue by stating that regarding the infamously complicated history of the film, its current legal issues were relatively inconsequential, with The Guardian stating, "It's another bump in the long road for this most troubled of productions, though given the director has waited nearly two decades to see his magnum opus on screen, he can stand to hold on for a few more months." BBC stated before the film's release "It is almost unbelievable that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is still being wounded by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" while Vox stated "It remains to be seen whether the film is any good. But at this point, it almost doesn't matter. It will be a long time before The Man Who Killed Don Quixote can be seen just as a movie, separate from its long saga of dreams and woes and catastrophes—which may actually be beneficial in the case of a movie about a knight with a foolish dream. The behind-the-scenes saga is part of the film's mystique and history, and whether it's great, terrible, or somewhere in between, that story is what historians, critics, and crowds will remember, long after the movie leaves theaters."
Gilliam himself admitted in May 2017 than the film's legendary reputation added more pressure on him: "The problem is that people have very high expectations. And a lot of people say I'm a fool to make the film, and that it would have been better to let people imagine how great it would have been, rather than making it a reality and disappointing them. People love Roman ruins because they're not complete and you can imagine them. So I may be making a great mistake. Maybe the film would be better as a fantasy."
Lost in La Mancha
After his 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was almost abandoned, Gilliam decided to document the making of all his films in case one of them was canceled. For The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, he asked Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who had been in charge of the making-of of his film 12 Monkeys, to film what should have ultimately been its making-of; however, after Don Quixote was cancelled, Lost in La Mancha was released in 2002 as a stand-alone documentary film about Gilliam's failed attempt at making the film.
The documentary received critical praise for its relevance on the difficulties inherent to filmmaking, and for its depiction of Gilliam as an artist. BBC called the film "painful to watch: an astonishing 'un-making of' documentary which defines the phrase 'catalogue of disasters'". Olga Kurylenko, who starred in the eventual 2018 film, stated about Lost in La Mancha, "You watch and you think, poor Terry. Why does this have to happen to this wonderful man? He doesn't deserve this. It's just crazy. But it wasn't meant to be, I guess. It wasn't the moment."
He Dreamed of Giants
In May 2018, it was announced that Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, the writers and directors of Lost in La Mancha, would release a follow-up film, titled He Dreamed of Giants, which would cover the entire history of the film's making, with particular focus on what happened after the events depicted in Lost in La Mancha. Pepe said that the film would be "more introspective" than Lost in La Mancha, stating, "This is more a film about an internal struggle in an artist's mind. What is it like for an artist to be standing on the brink of actually finishing this project finally? [...] Even on the set we would say the conflicts raging around Terry right now of making the movie are not nearly as interesting as what's going on inside his head."
The film is currently in the editing process. It is unknown whether it will be a bonus feature on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote's home media release, or will be released on its own like Lost in La Mancha.
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