Terry Gilliam is one of the Director’s who has a vision I really respect. He brings magical realism to all his work and brings a tragic undercurrent to every story. His characters are flawed and he gives us worlds without heroes that are relatable and broken. “Fisher King” and “Brazil” are some of my favorite films and this is a great film that deserves to be among them. This was also a film that was hell to make. It was in some form of development for 29 years. It is a success that it finally was made and turned out as great as it is. Before I get into spoilers this is a great film and one I’d recommend to any fan of Gilliam’s work. It has all of his visual strengths and flawed characters and also the flaws of his films as many of the women he writes are more ideas than characters.
Terry Gilliam directed and co-wrote the film with Tony Grisoni.
The story follows Toby (Adam Driver) an advertising director who has returned to Spain to film a commercial about Don Quixote. After stumbling onto his student film where he changed a life of a small town forever with his film. Toby returns to the town and finds that all those involved with the town have come upon misery or death…with the cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who played Don Quixote, now believing himself to be the figure from the books. From here Toby is pulled into Javier’s adventure as he must own up to his own selfishness and the man he has become.
The Cinematography – Nicola Pecorini does a wonderful job bringing Gilliam’s vision to life. From the use of stark colors when they are filming the commercial in the desert, to the final showdown in an old Castle that has been turned into a costume show…his use of color presentation brings each scene to life. It is from this presentation that the dreamlike nature is brought to the film and shows how many of the characters blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
The Soundtrack – Roque Baños López handled the soundtrack well and blends his influences to give us classic Spanish guitar work combined with the more epic operatic feel of the core adventure. He also works tension into every scene with the way he weaves the soundtrack through the film. The final showdown is a great example of this as it emphasizes the nightmarish costume party taking place and the fall of our heroes.
The World – The world that the film takes place is compelling as it mixes the story of “Don Quixote” into the real narrative of a town controlled by a Russian Gangster, sociopathic Hollywood executives and a crew who exploit one another and the people around them. This is a terrible world in regards to most of the characters who make up it, which ends up making sense why Javier became Don Quixote because the cruelty of life where there isn’t justice was too much for him to bare. This world is a beautiful tragedy and I look forward to watching it again. There are so many sad and comedic moments that I found it impossible not to be drawn in.
The Leads – The leads are really what carry the film. Adam Driver’s Toby is an egomaniac who eventually learns to be good but goes mad in the process (becoming Don Quixote after he accidentally kills Javier). Jonathan Pryce’s Javier is a madman who is driven by idealism but by the end of the film finds himself in death and Joana Ribiero’s Angelica is wonderful in how she calls each of them out in different ways while seeking freedom from the Mob.
When Creation and Art Leads to Obsession – The major theme of the film is the creation of art and how it can lead to obsession. The Russian mob boss has everyone dress up so that they can all live in his illusion, Javier once he figures out how the play the role of Don Quixote becomes the character and Toby in his initial obsession is what consumes the town and later himself when he adopts the role of Don Quixote after accidentally killing Javier. Given Gilliam’s own obsession in making this film, this film is most likely true to his life in many ways.
Presentation of Women – The women in this film are not fully realized characters. You have the Producer’s wife who is presented as a sign of temptation and corruption and you have Angelica as the fair maiden to be saved. Thankfully Angelica is shown to be more than this caricature by the end of the film but the Producer’s wife is not so lucky. They are also the only actresses that have any major role in the film so the fact that they are put into these awful roles by the men stands out all the more. This was definitely what brought the film down the most for me. The objectification by the cruel men is never called out. They just end up experiencing a different form of objectification.
I’m grateful this film got made. Gilliam has such a unique vision as a director and I love his magical realism. It isn’t perfect but the magical realism of Gilliam is something that I’ve always enjoyed, it is one of my favorite genres of fiction. There is something to be said for an artist who can so beautifully mix fantasy and reality into his narrative and comment on the nature of that blending in the process. I can see why Gilliam had been trying to make this film for so long. What he created is beautiful and amazing and to any Terry Gilliam fan I highly recommend. I’m planning to check out the documentary “Lost in La Manche” as it goes into the failed attempts to make this film. If you are a fan of Gilliam or this genre too, check it out.
Final Score: 9.5 / 10