Fantastic Fest 2010: Alex de la Iglesia's THE LAST CIRCUS is a devastating, dark, sometimes funny film about killer clowns!!!
Published at: Oct. 1, 2010, 1:26 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Austin here.
There's a part of me that wishes I could understand what it must be like to be Spanish and live with the Spanish Civil War as part of my history. Clearly, that period and the era of Franco's dictatorial rule of Spain has had such an impact on the culture's psyche that many filmmakers are still drawing inspiration from the deep wounds that remain. Now Alex de la Iglesia (EL DIA DE LA BESTIA; 800 BULLETS; EL CRIMEN PERFECTO) has ventured into this particular darkness armed with two clowns and as imaginative and desperate a tale as he has ever told, THE LAST CIRCUS (although the subtitle at my screening referred to it as THE BALLAD OF THE SAD TRUMPET and I've also seen it listed as A SAD TRUMPET BALLAD--take your pick).
There's not appropriate way to accurately describe THE LAST CIRCUS' power. The story launches off in 1937 with a sad and happy clown giving a children's performance when the roar of battle sounds from outside the circus tent. The happy clown and many of the other performers are handed weapons and asked to fight on behalf of the National Front, when the clown (wielding a machete) asks if he can at least change before the battle begins, he is told no because a clown with a machete will scare the shit out of the enemy; can't argue with that logic. The clown's son, Javier, makes an effort to break his father out of a camp, and the results are tragic thanks to an evil colonel (Sancho Gracia), leaving Javier alone in the world. When he grows up, Javier (Carlos Areces) takes on the role of the sad clown and joins a circus troupe opposite the happy clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), a mean son of a bitch who beats his stunning girlfriend Natalia (Carolina Bang), a aerial dancer and part-time masochist.
It doesn't take long for Javier to fall in love with Natalia, with the jealous rage of Sergio waiting in the wings to possibly kill or at least pummel both of them. THE LAST CIRCUS functions best as a tragic love story, but the battle of the sad and happy clown is truly epic, nasty, and utterly psychotic. The film is also loaded with dark humor (not camp, however) and a visual spectrum that had me mesmerized. The historic metaphor, of course, is that the more you fight a great evil, the more evil you become. Javier comes what he beholds to hold onto Natalia, who is about as unstable as either of her suiters. Areces gives an incredible performance as the not-handsome Javier, but Natalia does seem to find a great comfort being around him, especially when he stands up to the bullying Sergio.
I can't think of a time when an Alex de la Iglesia film did not entice and thrill me, but there's something enhanced about THE LAST CIRCUS. Maybe it's the complete and utter fear of clowns that it instilled in me. During the final battle, their makeup is dried up and flaking off like so much dead skin, and the image is grotesque. Or perhaps he drew me in the the dead-sexy Carolina Bang, whose Natalia is as crazy as she is gorgeous. I think my long-time curiosity about this time in European history has a lot to do with my love of the work, especially since De La Iglesia does an awe-inspiring job making me feel the suffering and systematic transformation into something less than human for which the Franco government was responsible. And for reasons I'm not even sure I can explain, this is the film during Fantastic Fest that I almost cried watching due to an explosion of mixed emotions that I'm still sorting through. I don't think THE LAST CIRCUS has a U.S. distributor yet; I don't even think the film has opened in Spain yet. But I can't imagine it won't see its much-deserved day. I can't wait for you to experience this.
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