SUNBURNED AND DREAMING 

For many years, Gilliam wanted to make a film about the man whose spirit has surfaced throughout his career, and eventually a ragtag group of investors gave him money to do it. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was to be the most expensive film ever made with no U.S. funds whatsoever. (And even at over $30 million, the director realized he
 
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Johnny Depp gets some wicked highlights in Lost in La Mancha.
only had half the money he really needed.) If all had gone according to plan, Lost in La Mancha would probably be an extra feature on some DVD edition of the film - not this painful, Heart of Darkness-like chronicle of a stillborn epic.

We meet Gilliam and his crew in the weeks before filming begins. The nature of the production requires that different departments are spread across Europe - seamstresses work in this country, the makeup department is in another - and there is the feeling that, although the director sees every shot very clearly in his mind's eye, not quite enough planning has been done. But the filmmakers are optimistic, happy to get the long-awaited project rolling. Then the cast begins to trickle in.

In the week before cameras roll, we see two potential roadblocks: One involves the casting of Vanessa Paradis (girlfriend of cast member Johnny Depp). More importantly, Quixote is to be played by a Frenchman, Jean Rochefort, who is physically ideal but has only seven months of English lessons under his belt. As we soon learn, his line readings are doused in a thick, syrupy accent - which might be all right, were it the Don's Spanish accent, but is instead unmistakably Gallic. (Damned French, not content only to ruin Dubya's party ...)

The real problem with Rochefort, sadly, is a herniated disc that makes him totally unfit for equestrian duty, which is pretty much required if you're going to go tilting at windmills. In the week of shooting before this injury is diagnosed, the production is beset

 
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Jean Rochefort dresses up like Don Quixote.
by cartoonish setbacks: A little cloud on the horizon becomes a downpour, which becomes a mudslide that literally washes away equipment and changes the color of the desert. A soundstage turns out to be unfit for sound recording. And a critical location is right next door to a NATO training range, where jet fighters screech by in the middle of every take.

Lost chronicles these setbacks in deadpan fashion, but the really wrenching thing is seeing Gilliam and company as they react to them. It is heartbreaking to learn that the director is neither foolhardy nor egomaniacal, but maintains a determined optimism, trying in a very un-Quixotic way to work through obstacles as they crop up. He can't, and eventually admits defeat, and it might be enough to make your eyes moist.

Shot plainly on video and adorned with occasional amateurish digital effects and stiff narration, the only visual

LOST IN LA MANCHA
Dir. and writ. Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe; feat. Jeff Bridges (voice), Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort (R)
thrills in Lost in La Mancha come in clips from other films - the few precious feet of celluloid shot before Gilliam's film was scrapped, and tantalizing glimpses of Orson Welles' own abortive movie about the Don. These are delightful, but not the point. Lost is a brief, not terribly sentimental portrait of a dreamer who had to cry "uncle" for the first time - and in that way resonated with his subject more than he would have if he had succeeded. •


More by John DeFore

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