Fantastic Fest Review: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Was it worth the wait for Terry Gilliam's fools' errand?

It isn’t often a behind-the-scenes documentary receives a theatrical release 16 years before the actual film is finished, but then again, nothing has been predictable about Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Yet somehow, years after the documentary Lost in La Mancha, the feature film is finally here, with Gilliam stars old and new on board to try and do his magnum opus justice.

Toby (Adam Driver) is Hollywood’s latest phenom, a commercial director tasked with shooting a big-budget adaptation of Don Quixote in the Spanish countryside. Inspired by the rediscovery of his student adaptation of the novel, Toby sets off to find his former stars, only to discover his Sancho has died, his Dulcinea (Joana Ribeiro) has moved away, and his star Javier (Jonathan Pryce) is hopelessly mired in the fantasy that he is indeed the reincarnation of Don Quixote of La Mancha.

Early on, it seems that Gilliam will use Javier as a Dickensian device to rehash the damage done by Toby during his rise to the top. Just as the film settles into a divide between reality and fantasy, it introduces a third notion: The affluent among us can bend reality to the whims of their own fantasies. The resulting confusion between fantasy and reality makes it difficult for Quixote to find a consistent visual tone. Gilliam works best here when his images are grounded in reality; when his restraint give way to more fantastical sequences, the film loses its its focus.

None of this is the fault of the film’s stars. Driver proves himself a perfect foible for Gilliam’s brand of surrealism, moving quickly (and easily) between broad humor and high drama. Pryce, meanwhile, is free to summon his inner Quixote, mixing insults, praise, and blessings upon his travel companion in his own flowing prose. These performances are worth the wait, even if The Man Who Killed Don Quixote itself seems destined to be more curio than capstone.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

North American premiere
Thu., Sept. 27, 2pm

Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the podcast network, visit

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