Friday, February 17, 2012

The Last Circus (2010)

Title: Balada Triste de Trompeta (The Last Circus) (2010)

Director: Alex de la Iglesia

Cast: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, Carolina Bang


I always look forward to an Alex de la Iglesia film because they always have this kind of acid-like comedy to them. Ever seen Perdita Durango (1997)? It’s an insane drug infused trip, reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). I think this type of black comedy, where characters are ultra hateful and everything that can go wrong does go wrong; where things go as bat shit insane as they can possibly go is a signature of Alex de la Iglesia as a director. It could also have something to do with films being a more liberal form of expression in European countries (read: they don’t have a ratings system!)  as opposed to American films which can sometimes come off as muted or sensored in some ways. Films from Spain, Mexico, France all have a whole other level of crudeness that is absent from American cinema. Which is exactly the reason why an Alex de la Iglesia film will feel like pouring a bucket of ice cold water down your spine; these films are uncensored, unfiltered raw emotions. Whatever it is, it’s what I love about Alex de la Iglesia films. Characters use a lot of foul language, they hate, they love and the kill all with mind numbing intensity. Essentially, characters in an Alex de la Iglesia movie always have a heightened sense of emotions!

The Last Circus tells the story of a boy named Javier whose father is a clown. Their job is to entertain the masses as the war rages on outside the circus walls. But when his father is taken prisoner by a war hungry politician, he asks Javier to avenge his death, to become a sad clown for the sad times they are living in. Javier takes his advice, and so we fast forward in time many years later and meet Javier, now a full grown adult, looking for a job in a circus. The owner of the circus asks him “why do you want to become a clown? No one becomes a clown just for the hell of it”. The owner of the circus explains to him that if he hadn’t become a clown, he’d be a serial killer, and Javier says “me too”. That’s the kind of dry humor I’m talking about! So anyhows, Javier gets his job as a clown and everything is going fine and dandy until he falls in love with Natalia, a gorgeous bombshell of a trapeze artist, who also happens to be the circus owner’s girlfriend! Can Javier take the pressures of being in a love triangle?

‘Frenetic’ is the right kind of word to describe an Alex de la Iglesia film; his films never stop running from one crazy situation to the next.  In The Last Circus we meet a love crazy clown who will do anything to defend Natalia from her abusive boyfriend, a violent, sadistic, vicious circus owner who ironically enough plays the ‘Silly Clown’ in the circus. The love triangle leads to bloody violence, revenge and tragedy. It reminded me in more ways then one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SantaSangre (1989), a film which Alex de la Iglesia is obviously paying homage to. We have the same type of dynamic about a man falling in love with a circus performer who is already romantically involved with the owner of the circus, we have a scene in which all the characters from the circus walk around town sad and depressed because one of them is badly hurt, same as the funeral procession for the dead elephant in Santa Sangre; and same as in Santa Sangre, things get bloody as hell. It could be argued that there is a bit of Fellini in this movie, but I don’t want to be one of those reviewers that says that every film with a circus in it is ‘Felliniesque’.

When Alex de la Iglesia set out to make The Last Circus, he says that what he wanted to do was a movie with a clown turned psycho killer. He mentions that the image that brought this film to life was that of a gun totting clown, going around town shooting his machine guns, this of course ended up being the most iconic image from the film. Javier going around town guns a blazin’ reminded me of the character called ‘D-Fence’ (played by Michael Douglas) in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (1993), a character that is also used to criticize society and it’s evils. Clowns are already kind of scary; but just imagine one whose face is horribly scarred and imagine said clown walking around shooting machine guns! What makes things even more interesting in this film is that we have two clowns fighting against each other. On the one hand we have Sergio, the owner of the circus who is the ‘Silly Clown’ always doing his best to make kids laugh, while on the other we get Javier who is the tragic ‘Sad Clown’, the butt of the jokes; who will Natalia choose of the two?

Many comment on this films political themes, and it’s true, they are there. But in all honesty, to me the politics served as a backdrop to what is really a tragic love story about two men in love with the same woman. It explores the animosity that this kind of situation can bring up between two men. When a woman has to choose between two men, will she choose the macho type? Or will she choose the quintessential nice and sensitive type? Will she choose the buff looking dude, or the fat guy? Will she care about superficiality, or will she love the man she chooses for who he is? In The Last Circus Sergio represents the macho type. He talks loud, enjoys intimidating people and loves to hit Natalia, who apparently has grown to accept Sergio’s violent ways. When Natalia meets Javier, she is suddenly confronted with a man who treats her kindly and isn’t afraid to stand up to Sergio and his intimidating ways. She of course finds this tenderness attractive. So Natalia, confused doesn’t know which guy she wants to choose. In the end, will anybody be happy?

The films title ‘Balada Triste de Trompeta’ comes from a song of the same name; its literal translation is ‘Sad Trumpet Ballad’. The song is performed by a famous Spanish singer called ‘Raphael’, and I should know, my mom is a huge fan of this legendary Spanish singer, quite possibly his biggest fan ever? ‘Balada Triste de Trompeta’ is one of his most popular songs and it’s about someone sadly remembering a lost love, with his heart broken into pieces by the rupture. He is so sad that he sees himself as a sad clown, crying as he sings. In the song, his cries are mixed with the sad sound of a trumpet, this is a hauntingly sad song and one that matches perfectly with the main character in The Last Circus, a love sick man, driven mad by his impossible love. Raphael was not only a singer, but also an actor. He was so popular during his peak in the 60’s and 70’s that he starred in a couple of movies centered around him, a la Elvis Presley and his movies. In one of these films Rapahel actually dresses up as a clown and sings ‘Balada Triste de Trompeta’ and Alex de la Iglesia effectively uses these scenes in the film in one pivotal scene. I mention this because I’m sure this will be lost amongst most American viewers who probably wont have any idea of who Raphael is.

There is a lack of sympathetic characters on this film; damn near everyone is kind of despicable. The protagonist, Javier isn’t likable at all; he is a murderer, driven mad by love. Sergio is a clown that can make kids laugh one second and blow somebody’s brains out the next, no problem. Natalia is the girl who can’t apparently stand up for herself and in her confusion makes two men go at each others throats for her. But I am of the opinion that every single movie does not have to be about shinny happy people. There’s space for dark, black humor as the one depicted in The Last Circus. This is an angry film, with lot of ugliness to it. Characters are angry at the world and the way their lives have turned out.  But like some of the best directors, The Last Circus finds beauty in ugliness, art in pain…and speaking of beauty, Carolina Bang is such gorgeous beauty! To close up this review I’ll say that The Last Circus even has some gothic elements to it. The film ends with a fight on top of a giant cross, reminiscent of those old Frankenstein movies that end on a giant windmill; two monsters fighting for the love of their beauty. Actually this is a film that has more than a little bit of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in it, after all this is a film about two misunderstood monster who are simply looking for love; in all the wrong ways. The Last Circus is violent, gory, and even poetic at times; a stylish piece of Spanish cinema not to be missed by lovers of style and black humor.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5


Kaijinu said...

I was actually hoping it to be more...visceral. I've felt a little cheated, but yes, I do agree, The Last Circus was a pretty good movie.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I'll have to check this out. It's currently on Watch Instantly, so I added it to my queue.

Franco Macabro said...

Kaijinu: It does have its gory moments though, like the scene in which Javier destroys Sergio's face with a trumpet! That scene actually reminded me of one a similar scene in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. Yeah, I wouldn't call this one a gore fest either, but it has it's fare share of blood, thanks for commenting!

Direct to Video Connoisseur: Hope you enjoy it.

t said...

I'm surprised you haven't reviewed other films by Alex de la Iglesia here. Especially my favorite, 'El dia de la Bestia.' I wish his films were more well-known in the non-Spanish-speaking world.

Franco Macabro said...

t: I love Alex de la Iglesia films, last one I watched was El Crimen Ferpect, which was great fun and Perdita Durango is, awesome.

But speaking of El Dia de la Bestia, that movie blew me away the first time I saw it, I'm dying to give it the old re-watch so, I'm hoping I will be reviewing it sometime soon! It's without a doubt my favorite De La Iglesia movie. I'll make it a point to give Alex de la Iglesia more exposure, he truly is a gifted filmmaker.


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