The below review was written by Mike Scott of the New Orleans Picayune in conjunction with the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival. I find New Orleans and Don Quixote fascinating. The former because I have visited there for Mardi Gras 3 times and I am always always deeply impressed with the joy that inhabits that city. Being from a town that can barely be bothered by a smile, (No british gentlemen teeth jokes please…please.) I appreciate the artistry that comes with knowing how to live, I also appreciate the fact that they know themselves so well. They don’t try to be something that they are not.
Don Quixote is the first novel. The…First! I marvel at that idea. There was no way to tell a story like a novel before that. How did that work? I quickly must say and be brutally honest with myself. I have never made it all the way through, but I have looked at all great adventurers as the descendents of Cervantes, because what else can man really do, except tilt at windmills?
The review is about an independent film that apparently has made it to the big screen. (Must have been very difficult, my countryman took decades to do the same thing.)
Anyway, I hope to see it someday. I hope someone will tell me what the film is like.
“The True Don Quixote”
(director: Chris Poché; 1 hour 25 minutes; world premiere)
You can be forgiven for thinking writer-director Chris Poché and his band of St. Bernard bards were tilting at windmills when they announced their intentions to film an independent adaptation of “Don Quixote.” After all, Cervantes’ enduring work isn’t merely a beloved piece of literature. It is revered. It is iconic. It is said to be the second-most translated book in the world, after the Bible.
That’s intimidating stuff — and it’s probably why “Don Quixote” has been so resistant to adaptation for English-language audiences over the years. Terry Gilliam’s famously troubled three-decade effort to produce his own version, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” finally ended when his film closed the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It received lukewarm reviews.
All that makes Poché’s “The True Don Quixote” feel that much more triumphant. Not only did it defy the odds simply by making its way to the screen, but it also arrives as a deftly directed and emotionally resonant film that updates Cervantes’ tale for modern audiences. Perhaps most importantly, Poché and company never lose grip of the comedy and humanity that makes it all so magical to begin with.
Following the narrative lead of Cervantes’ original story, Poché’s film chronicles the adventures of Danny Kehoe, a mentally troubled librarian living in present-day St. Bernard Parish who, feeling crushed by the weight of the modern world, retreats into the books that have become his all-consuming passion — tales of yore, of knights and chivalry. Alas, Danny retreats a bit too far. He ends up suffering from the delusion that he, too, is a knight errant and that he must embark on heroic missions to win the hearts of the people.
Tim Blake Nelson, left, and Jacob Batalon star in director Chris Poche’s 2018 film “The True Don Quixote.” (Photo via New Orleans Film Festival)
Tim Blake Nelson (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) is perfectly cast as Danny, with Jacob Batalon (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) serving as his reluctant sidekick, Sancho. Together they scour the countryside, searching for adventure and glory — but, for the most part, collecting only scrapes and bruises.
They are accompanied on their journey by expertly intoned narration from Roy Blount Jr., as well as a beautifully realized score — rich and whimsical — penned by Poché with local composer Jay Weigl.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Poché’s “True Don Quixote” is, indeed, how true it is to Cervantes’ work, both in plot and in tone. Yes, it’s set in the modern world, and while that has tripped up many a previous literary adaptation, it ends up being entirely immaterial in this case.
Consider: When Cervantes’ two-part tale was first published in 1605 and 1615, knights were already a thing of the past, and so much of its humor was derived from the fact that its delusional title character was a man out of time. Well, knights are still a thing of the past, and so the absurdity of Don Quixote’s adventures is still fully intact, even 400-plus years later.
By necessity, Poché makes a few tweaks here and there, but they work surprisingly well. Don Quixote’s faithful steed, Rocinante, is replaced here by a hot-pink motor scooter — dubbed “Rosacea.” His original lady love from Cervantes’ work, the lovely Dulcinea del Tobosco, is supplanted here by the cashier who sells him ice cream at the local Quickie Mart. He calls her “Dulce de Leche de Tabasco.”
As for the Louisiana “windmill” he encounters, I won’t spoil the fun of that.
I will say this, however: Poché and his largely local cast and crew deserve an enormous amount of credit for what they’ve accomplished — and, make no mistake, it is an accomplishment. Their “True Don Quixote” is an impressive display of filmmaking, one that promises to entertain its audience, to honor Cervantes’ original work and, perhaps best of all, to showcase the depth of Louisiana’s native filmmaking talent.
Screening info: 6:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Contemporary Arts Center Main NOFF Theater; and 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Contemporary Arts Center Ranch Theater.