After 25 years (“of making… and unmaking”), at last Terry Gilliam made The man who killed Don Quixote, and it’s in theaters now! The protagonists of this successful attempt are Adam Driver (that is Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movies) and Jonathan Pryce (an old acquaintance of Gilliam who worked with him in Brazil, 1985). And what about it?
I came out of the theater ecstatic and the fact that, as usual when Gilliam is involved, this movie is receiving a warm reception (the critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is 55%, 79% that of the audience) only confirms to me that it’s yet another great work by the American director. I’ll start from the plot, if you want to avoid spoilers come back here after watching the movie!
Adam Driver plays Toby, a young American director who’s in Spain to shoot an advertisement. He speaks little Spanish and already knows the country because when he was very young he made his first film, an amateurish Don Quixote starring an old artisan he had found by chance in a dusty village. Bored by the advertisement work (the only thing that seems to animate him is the producer’s wife, Olga Kurylenko, who would animate me as well), Toby goes for a motorbike ride and… finds the old artisan himself! And it seems that he still believes to be Don Quixote, so much so that when he sees Toby he calls him Sancho Panza, and after a series of absurd incidents their adventure begins!
And being this an adventure worthy of the characters created by Miguel de Cervantes, it is a great one! We’ll witness fights against giants (both in forms of windmills and of wine containers) as in the original novel, but there will also be up-to-date references with a village of illegal immigrants who will turn into a nest of dangerous suicide terrorists. And in the grand finale here comes the lady in distress, Angelica (played by Joana Ribeiro), that is the Dulcinea of the first film by Toby, in reality a girl lost behind the dream of working in cinema.
And why is The man who killed Don Quixote a fantastic movie? First of all for the respect it demonstrates for of the immortal literary work (there is also a brilliant dialogue playing with the fact that Cervantes’ Quixote is supposedly a novel found by the latter, and not written by him!). Not only does it feature the novel’s characters, but he also follows its structure. The first part is adventurous and “light-hearted”, while the second becomes more sorrowful with Don Quixote beginning to recognize his sad reality and with the process of Quixotization of Sancho Panza who begins to believe the fantasies of his travel companion. Thus, after a while, Toby begins to act incoherently, in an escalation which culminates with the splendid ending in which he will make Don Quixote immortal by… killing the previous one and becoming himself Don Quixote.
The movie is visually stunning, with Gilliam showing off all his technique and with the cinematography glorifying the rural and dusty side of Spain in every shot (the director of photography is once again Gillian’s faithful Nicola Pecorini). All the actors are very well directed, including the Spanish Jordi Mollá and Sergi López. The language question is dealt with in a funny way: towards the beginning of the film, Toby begins to speak in his bad Spanish with Angelica’s father who speaks Spanish, and the dialogue is accompanied by English subtitles. But soon Toby gets tired, wipes the subtitles off as if they were there physically and says “We do not really need this, right?”, and off we go speaking English throughout the whole film. It’s as if Gilliam told us that he is aware of the absurdity of Spanish characters speaking English, so why not admitting it and making a joke out of it?
The movie has the same soul of the Cervantes’ novel. Terry Gilliam’s movie is satirical and attacks everything the director doesn’t like: the advertising world, the world of cinema, the rich, the presumed cultural superiority of the Americans who superficially judge the whole of Spain through their limited experiences, the search for success, today’s society based on appearance rather than substance… so many things! This is a movie worth watching over and over again, it’s profound, funny, and sad.
So, is it a perfect movie? No, it’s not: there are a couple of things that I didn’t like, like the CGI blood of the injured policeman at the beginning of the film, the choice of a Portuguese actress for the character of Angelica, and the purpose of the Sergi López’ character that I didn’t understand… and then it’s of course Terry Gilliam: two thousands things are on screen all the time, so much so that sometimes it’s difficult to follow everything perfectly, but for me this only gives the movie a great replay value! Super-recommended! Ciao!