The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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19th November 2019

I saw unchivalrous behaviour at the screening of a movie about Don Quixote, can you believe it? When a lady says she’s keeping the seat in front of her open because she’s short, don’t sit there! I was almost expecting a man in armour to burst through the door and hit the rude man in front of us with his lance.

Terry Gilliam (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, “Brazil”) directs The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. It wasn’t an easy journey for him. This is a movie that has been in the making for over 20 years! Talk about persistence! There were many catastrophes on the set and funding issues, but lately the movie has been plagued by a legal battle with a former producer. We should all be grateful the movie finally found its way to our cinemas.

The movie opens with the classic shot, a shabby knight on a white horse and his squire on a donkey are approaching. Mist swirls at their hooves and his lance is pointed to the sky. He’s fighting windmills.

The movie follow’s Toby, played by Adam Driver (“BlacKkKlansman”, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”), on his journey. He’s a creative genius at the helm of a Don Quixote movie. It’s not going too great, production seems sluggish and he’s lost his mojo.

Suddenly he finds an old student movie he once made about Don Quixote. His original cast is led by Jonathan Pryce (“The Wife”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”) as Don Quixote. Toby is inspired by his old work to take a trip down memory lane.

He returns to the locations where he filmed the first movie and reconnects with Jonathan Pryce’s character, a man who now believes he is the real Don Quixote. The poor man thinks Toby is Sancho, Don Quixote’s squire. Together they embark on an adventure.

The movie was very funny. The whole audience was often laughing out loud. The humour is very British, not crude but a lot of slapstick. When Don Quixote attacks a windmill, he ends up dangling from his lance. When a person sits down on a giant hand, as you do, he tumbles backwards with a surprised yelp.

The actors are truly bringing their A-game. Adam Driver does an excellent job portraying a self-centred person. Unfortunately I couldn’t root for Toby, because he’s a cheater who always tries to save his own skin. I did find it funny when he fell down a hole, but maybe that’s just me.

I’m not an actor, but it seems to me that acting like a bad actor can’t be easy. That’s Jonathan Pryce’s job when we first meet him. His character changes from a confused old man to Don Quixote. His Don Quixote feels very silly though. Sometimes I pitied him more than anything, which to be fair, seems appropriate.

The movie features a 4th wall break, but I thought it was very crudely handled. The movie takes place in Spain, and they sometimes speak Spanish. In the middle of a conversation in Spanish, Adam Driver’s character swipes the subtitles away and says “We don’t need those!” It felt like an excuse to speak English, and the rest of the movie doesn’t include any Spanish.

The movie presents a blend of the present and the past, reality and make-believe. In one scene however, that blend of reality and make-believe had me absolutely confused.

It starts off with Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce arriving in a village that seems to be filled with terrorists. Then make-believe seeps in and people charge in on horseback. In the morning everything seems fine, the villagers now are normal people from the 21st century. I had no idea what was happening. The movie makes it hard to believe what you see.

I found myself wondering, where does the madness end? And how do you know when to ask for help? The Don Quixote in this movie often says he’s immortal. He’ll never die. His goal is to restore the lost age of chivalry. I like that thought. I hope he’s out there somewhere, armour gleaming in the sunlight and charging furiously at a windmill. We need more knights fighting the battles that we can’t.

Toby, a disillusioned film director, becomes pulled into a world of time-jumping fantasy when a Spanish cobbler believes him to be Sancho Panza. He gradually becomes unable to tell dreams from reality.

31st January 2020

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni

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