The Last Circus (2010)

It’s Showtime.

The Last Circus, originally titled Balada Triste de Trompeta, (Sad Trumpet Ballad) in Spanish, is a rather unique picture as director Álex de la Iglesia, The Oxford Murders (2008), uses two crucial moments in Spain’s recent history, the Civil War and Francisco Franco’s repression and dictatorship as a backdrop to a bizarre tragic love story revolving around two circus clowns and their obsession over a striking trapeze artist.

The film opens up to a fantastic prologue set in 1937, where a circus clown is drafted into battle against fascist forces in Spain. The clown manages to slaughter a number of Franco’s men with a single machete, but is later caught and jailed. His son, Javier, however is traumatized by the whole affair, eventually tracking down his father who advises him that revenge in the only redemptive option against Franco’s superiors. Javier decides to honour his father by continuing the family tradition and becomes a clown following in his father’s footsteps. We cut to 1973 and Javier has become a ‘Sad Clown’ as he is incapable of making children laugh; Javier has also landed a job at a travelling circus and is working for Sergio, the charismatic yet sociopathic circus head who plays the ‘Happy Clown.’ Things become problematic when Javier finds himself infatuated by the beautiful trapeze artist Natalia who also happens to be the wife of the abusive Sergio and the two clowns become intertwined in a wild rivalry for Natalia’s attention resulting in unforeseeable consequences.

Who's laughing now?
Who’s laughing now?

The Last Circus truly succeeds thanks to an incredible cast, who carry this outrageous narrative; particularly the film’s principal leads. Carlos Areces, I’m So Exited (2013), is marvellous in his role as Javier, the soft-spoken clown who starts off as a rather sympathetic character, but later evolves into a menacing crackpot. It is Areces’ excellent portrayal of Javier that truly elevates this transformation as he is completely convincing in both roles and it’s a treat to witness him slip into madness as the picture progresses. Antonio de la Torre, Volver (2006), is terrific as Sergio; opposed to Javier, Sergio begins as a frightening, abusive character who is eventually disfigured, it is here that Sergio shifts turning from a threatening character into a weak, oppressed victim. Antonio de la Torre plays both aspects of the character with real delight and is at his best throughout the picture. Carolina Bang, from television’s Tierra de lobos (2011), plays Natalia with a wonderful disposition making it easy to understand why she is torn between Sergio’s rage and the safety of Javier; fraught with radiant beauty its also clear why Natalia has driven these deranged clowns to such crazed distraction.

Álex de la Iglesia directs the film with visual creativity, ocular flair and relentless pacing as the picture moves rather rapidly and is loaded with crazy scenarios and set pieces all of which develop our lead characters’ mental states, showcasing a range of emotions such as rage, jealousy, despair and remorse. Every scene is visually florid in essence, since action takes place in the foreground but also in the background with its zany secondary players. While the picture is relatively dark, it constantly changes tones, switching from historical drama to comedy, war movie to romantic melodrama, but finishes in a madcap nightmare of madness and mutilation.

Carolina Bang, changing the bed sheets in style!
Carolina Bang, changing the bed sheets in style!

The picture also seems to parallel the events of the Spanish Civil War, as the two clowns fighting over Natalia may represent two sides frighting over the same country. While director Álex de la Iglesia’s sympathies clearly lie with the Republicans, he plainly shows how war in general can contort the rational into the irrational until both sides resemble the same type of monster. Ultimately, the picture shows that envy, possessiveness, ego and a ferocious desire for revenge can leave deep scars on the country both sides claim to love; this is plainly evident in the film’s finale as Natalia ends up suffering as a result of the clown’s actions.

In the vain of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards (2009), The Last Circus explores the shattering effects of war and is gutsy filmmaking from a director who is clearly willing to push the art form into new territory. This thrilling and thought provoking film comes recommended for those who enjoy dark humour and macabre violence, just avoid if crazy clowns aren’t your thing.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Last Circus is released through Madman Entertainment Australia