Published Jul 21, 2011Without embellishing or patronizing, Aaron Schock's beautifully shot and candid documentary on Circo Mexico ― a travelling circus run and performed by the Ponce family for several generations ― manages to capture familial diasporas, changing priorities in social landscapes, the struggle between tradition and individual identity, and the inherent problems in separating oneself from society. It's comprehensive in a way that rarely feels laboured or forced, instead observing a family industry on the cusp of implosion with an unsentimental eye.
Tino Ponce labours for the family circus day and night, tackling his "townie" wife's claims of familial exploitation by Tino's father, who manages the money, while balancing the lives of his four children, training them to be circus performers despite a social need for traditional education. These dynamics generate a propulsive sense of drama amidst the high wire acts, lion taming performances and backbreaking efforts of maintaining a circus visibly fraying around the edges.
On the periphery, questions of an economic and cultural nature arise, giving a sense of impending doom for Circo Mexico in a society increasingly uninterested in antiquated forms of entertainment. There are also discomforting hints of some less than ideal treatment of wild animals thrust into an unnatural way of life.
It's these many issues and layers that keep Circo vital for the duration of its runtime, managing to justify its feature length, which is something most docs struggle with. We're given a variety of socio-economic and ideological fodder to contemplate while enjoying the haunting photography of a decaying circus with technically proficient, but seemingly passionless, performances.
Even if some of the juxtapositions, such as the image of the youngest daughter in kindergarten spliced with another daughter performing a contortionist act, are somewhat obvious, the overall experience of this comprehensive doc is quite moving and smart. (Kinosmith)