We don’t think of Orson Welles as a Spanish filmmaker, but he loved Spain to death: His ashes are buried in Andalusia. He was particularly fascinated by that most Spanish of characters, Don Quixote, with whom he shared a special affinity—neither man would let reality or common sense stand in the way of his impossible dreams. Welles’s quest was a film version of the Cervantes classic, which he pursued for 15 years, in fits and starts on a no-string budget, with a feverish obsession that can only be described as quixotic, giving up only when his lead actor died. It takes hubris worthy of Quixote to appropriate Welles’s project, but that’s what Spanish filmmakers Jess Franco and Patxi Irigoyen did, assembling the disparate footage into an astounding 116-minute cut that captures the director’s eccentric vision. Some may quibble with the postmodernist quirks—Quixote runs into Welles at a film shoot and thinks he’s Satan—but Welles fans will appreciate this glimpse of the masterpiece that could have been.
Welles’s Quixote is the centerpiece of the Spanish Cinema Now sub-retro “Jousting With Shadows and Light: El Quijote on Screen,” commemorating the 400th anniversary of the novel’s first edition. Other knights-errant here include Russian bass superstar Feodor Chaliapin in G.W. Pabst’s 1933 version, as well as Nikolai Cherkasov (Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky) in Grigori Kozintsev’s Don Kikhot (1957). Buñuel axiom Fernando Rey dons the shining armor for a five-hour 1992 miniseries scripted by Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela. And Terry Gilliam’s doomed attempt to out-Welles Welles is chronicled in Lost in La Mancha, arguably the most heartbreaking making-of documentary ever made.
With this lineup, moviegoers may be forgiven for confusing the sidebar with the mainbar. The latter has Quixotes of its own—dreamers who blur the line between imagination and reality. Obaba unearths creepy secrets (and brain-eating lizards) in an isolated town populated by OCD eccentrics whose jealous feuds fester for generations. It’s the Basque Twin Peaks. Mercedes Á luminous doc The Sky Turns interviews all 14 remaining inhabitants of Aldeaseñor—a dwindling village ringed by dinosaur footprints and high-tech wind farms—and a painter who wants to reproduce its landscape before he loses his sight. The glacial pace and pointillist detail (not to mention the unwavering artist) recall Víctor Erice’s Dream of Light, another Tarkovskyan time sculpture of shimmering beauty.
Unconscious squanders its dream cast on a sex farce about Freudian psychoanalysts in 1913 Barcelona, art-directed into a riot of Gaudí flourishes. The family drama Something to Remember Me By features a powerful performance by Emma Vilarasau as the mournful mom. Director Patricia Ferreira crafts a study of memory and loss as haunting as the Beethoven string quartets that grace its score. Best of all, Talk to Her‘s Mariola Fuentes enacts The Wretched Life of Juanita Narboni
like the heroine of a Lorca tragedy, an embittered spinster cloistered in her Tangiers home, refusing to accept the changes wreaked by civil war, Franco’s invasion, and Moroccan independence.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 29, 2005