Gilliam’s film tells the tale of making a film about the famous Don Quixote novel by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes.
As far back as 1989, Gilliam – best-known as a member of Monty Python – began his quest to bring the book to life but was hampered by all manner of funding and location setbacks. While it shares the film-within-a-film structure of Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy, his film leads heavily toward the kind of quaint farce found in the Mel Brooks-helmed The Producers.
Adam Driver leads the mostly strong cast as Toby, who, as a young college filmmaker travelling through Spain, begins shooting his own amateur short film of Don Quixote. Several years later, Toby is a brash advertising director returning to Spain to shoot a Quixote-themed TV commercial.
Driver is ably supported by Gilliam regular Jonathan Pryce in an unrestrained performance as the poor Spanish villager who was convinced to play the part of Don Quixote. It seems the actor has now metamorphosed into the character and is an unstoppable, demented force.
Driver literally throws himself into the role, in what must have been a physically punishing shoot, while Joana Ribeiro lights up the screen as Toby’s seemingly unassailable love interest, Angelica.
As is Gilliam’s schtick, the film ventures into a labyrinth of surrealist images among a few nods to his earlier films, including several of the Python films.
Visually adventurous, it makes the most of the Spanish (and Portuguese) terrain as Quixote embarks on his various mad, hallucinatory quests. A series of mix-ups and accidents sees Toby forced to follow Quixote, the knight-errant, inadvertently mirroring the role of Sancho Panza.
True to both the story and to Gilliam’s visual style, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote features plenty of windmills, bearded ladies and extravagant costume parties. Its over-the-top stylings and lack of brevity will be no shock to those who know the director’s work, and revel in the epic nature of such riotous comedies.