The Cannes festival has launched an extraordinary attack on a producer’s "ridiculous" legal bid to block the world premiere of Terry Gilliam’s latest film – due to close the Riviera extravaganza next month.
Said to be the most cursed film in cinema history, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was finally due to be screened on May 19 at the closing event of this year’s festival.
However, the Monty Python director’s ill-fated project – which was 20 years in the making – hit yet another last-minute snag last week when lawyers for producer Paolo Branco mounted a legal challenge to block the screening.
Branco claims that the film, with Star Wars actor Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce, is "illegal" and that his Alfama Films rather than Gilliam owns the rights to it. The legal challenge will be considered at an urgent hearing next Monday, May 7, the day before the festival opens.
However, in a furious missive, Cannes president Pierre Lescure and general delegate, Thierry Frémaux, said they would not bow to “intimidation”.
While they promised to respect the court ruling, the pair said: “We stand squarely on the side of filmmakers and in particular on the side of Terry Gilliam.
“We know how important this project, which has gone through so many trials and tribulations, is to him,” they went on. “The trouble was caused on this last occasion by the actions of a producer who has shown his true colours once and for all during this episode and who has threatened us, via his lawyer, with a ‘humiliating defeat’.”
“Defeat," they insisted, "would be to succumb to threats.”
The Cannes chiefs said they decided to feature Gilliam’s film in this year’s Official Selection “after careful consideration” and because “when we took our decision, there was no opposition to the screening of the film at the Festival”.
Judges in France and Britain have ruled that the Portuguese producer owns the rights to the film but the American-born director has challenged the French ruling and a Paris appeal court will give its decision in June.
This month, Gilliam claimed that Branco had "nothing to do with the (final) film. His demands are laughable, absurd. He is trying to make as much money as he possibly can from a film he did not produce," he told AFP.
But the producer’s lawyer and son Juan Branco denied this and said the film could only be released if Gilliam reached an agreement with his father.
On Twitter, he wrote that Gilliam and his new producers "knew that law was against them, but they have tried to play a killer poker hand with Thierry Fremaux" by premiering the film at the festival.
"It was a wrong move," he warned.
Gilliam’s disaster-prone attempts to make the film have led to inevitable comparisons with the deluded knight from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century Spanish novel, who duels with windmills.
An earlier version in 1998 backfired terribly when Jean Rochefort, the French actor playing Quixote, fell ill and flash floods washed the entire set away overnight.
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