There may be no British film in the competition at the Cannes Festival this year, but at least one of the hot stories of the crowded annual jamboree concerns Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, whose The Man who killed Don Quixote, at least 20 years in the making, has been given the last slot in the Festival’s programme. And thereby hangs a tale and a half. Paulo Branco, one of the epic’s producers, was furious when the Festival announced its plans, since he mounted a court case claiming he was wrongly cut out as producer in breach of an agreement he and Gilliam signed two years ago that awarded Branco the rights to the film. If he’d won the case the Festival would have had to find another closing night film. But he didn’t and so the film goes ahead.
It has been a monster trial for Gilliam over so many years, both financially and artistically. Already one movie has been made as a documentary on the trials and tribulations of the production and there’s a second one on the way. Gilliam has had to halt or abandon production several times owing to lack of finances, bad weather on set or other accidents, like his veteran French leading man being unable to get on a horse because of a bad bladder infection. Johnny Depp was attached at one point but had to decline because of other engagements.
Throughout all this Gilliam, the original cheeky chappie who fundamentally lets nothing get him down, was totally determined to make the film and eventually succeeded in doing so. But at some cost to his health, since he recently lost the sight of one eye briefly after a minor stroke and only a few days ago had another one. He is however determined to support the film at Cannes which has described Branco as “a self-important troublemaker” and Gilliam as a genius who has to be supported.
It is altogether an extraordinary story of triumph over adversity but, if you look at his successes and failures you understand that he never ceases to take risks, financially and otherwise. Brazil, Time Bandits and The Fisher King were among his successes and the Adventures of Baron Munchhausen a considerable flop. All in all, however, this very Anglicised American director has been a cherishable member of the British scene ever since has provided the brilliant animated sections of the Monty Python series. “Not dead yet” was his last message to Cannes,”I’m coming to the Festival for sure”!