Get a First Glimpse of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the “Cursed” Film 29 Years in the Making

One pos­si­ble response to the tan­ta­liz­ing notion of a Ter­ry Gilliam film about Don Quixote: How has­n’t he made one already? Anoth­er pos­si­ble response: Wait, has­n’t he made one already? The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which pre­miered at Cannes last month, arrives 29 years after Gilliam first start­ed work­ing on it — and 16 years after Lost in La Man­cha, a well-received doc­u­men­tary about one of his failed attempts to shoot it. Long the per­fect sym­bol of a “cursed” pro­duc­tion doomed to an eter­ni­ty in “devel­op­ment hell,” it has some­how come back from the dead, res­ur­rect­ed by the sheer dogged­ness of Gilliam and his col­lab­o­ra­tors, time and time again.

The movie even sur­vives John Hurt and Jean Rochefort, two of the stars pre­vi­ous­ly signed on to play Quixote him­self. (The list also includes Robert Duvall and Gilliam’s fel­low Python Michael Palin.) Jonathan Pryce, best known at the moment as Game of Thrones’ High Spar­row, has ulti­mate­ly tak­en on the role, hav­ing been attached to play oth­ers in the project over the pre­vi­ous decades. But just as Gilliam’s film does­n’t straight­for­ward­ly adapt Cer­vantes’ clas­sic of Span­ish lit­er­a­ture, Pryce does­n’t straight­for­ward­ly por­tray Cer­vantes’ icon­ic char­ac­ter. He does it, rather, through a Span­ish shoe­mak­er who tru­ly believes he is Cer­vantes’ icon­ic char­ac­ter, hav­ing played him in a stu­dent film years before.

The stu­dent film­mak­er has grown up to become a cyn­i­cal adman, one meant to be played in pre­vi­ous ver­sions of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Robin Williams, John­ny Depp, Ewan McGre­gor, and Jack O’Con­nell. In the trail­er above you’ll see the char­ac­ter played by Adam Dri­ver, who in recent years has fast ascend­ed into the realm of indie-film roy­al­ty. Where­as ear­li­er scripts flung him back through time from mod­ern day into 17th-cen­tu­ry Spain, this one stays in the present and forces him to con­front the out­sized impact of his small film on the even small­er vil­lage in which he shot it. And so the sto­ry of the film, not just the sto­ry behind it, takes on themes of the unpre­dictable com­pli­ca­tions, con­se­quences, and even dan­gers of film­mak­ing.

Those com­pli­ca­tions have ground on for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of the film’s sup­posed curse takes the form of a law­suit by a for­mer pro­duc­er, Paulo Bran­co, who insists he still owns the rights to it. Gilliam’s cur­rent pro­duc­er says oth­er­wise, but their recent loss in the Paris Court of Appeals has giv­en the noto­ri­ous­ly force­ful Bran­co rea­son — valid or not, nobody seems quite able to say — to pub­licly declare vic­to­ry. Whichev­er par­ty will final­ly have to cough up how­ev­er much mon­ey to set­tle all of this, the epic jour­ney of Gilliam’s Don Quixote project looks as if it has entered its home stretch. How­ev­er the world receives the film itself, Gilliam’s fans can almost cer­tain­ly look for­ward to anoth­er acclaimed doc­u­men­tary about it as well. 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ter­ry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Mon­ty Python Ani­ma­tions: A 1974 How-To Guide

Watch “The Secret Tour­na­ment” & “The Rematch,” Ter­ry Gilliam’s Star-Stud­ded Soc­cer Ads for Nike

Yale Presents a Free Online Course on Miguel de Cer­vantes’ Mas­ter­piece Don Quixote

Gus­tave Doré’s Exquis­ite Engrav­ings of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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