Published Sep 30, 2011If clowns freak you out at all, The Last Circus isn't going to assuage your discomfort. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, this mediation on the dangers of obsession and obsession with danger is consistently brutal, gory, beautiful and horrifyingly funny.
In 1937, a "happy" circus clown (the distinction is vital to the story) is stopped mid-performance and drafted into the militia at gunpoint. Keeping him in costume for the fear factor of a clown wielding a machete, the militia loose him upon the National soldiers. That's when the blood begins to fly. Stylized to emphasize the confusion of battle, the scene is choppily edited, obscuring spatial continuity, but providing a dizzying feel of frantic visceral impact.
Despite decimating an entire platoon single-handedly, it's a losing battle and the Happy Clown butcher is imprisoned, leaving his son, Javier, with too much emotional pain to become anything other than a Sad Clown, unless he embraces the path of revenge.
Rejoining Javier as a rotund adult in 1973, he secures his first employment in the trade of his lineage, hired to play the mopey punching bag to abusive drunkard Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), who's really great with the kids as the Happy Clown, which is about the only time he's not three sheets to the wind and thinking with his fists.
Sergio's lover is devilishly angelic and alluring acrobat Natalia (Carolina Bang). Javier falls madly in love with her, which she doesn't discourage; she's attracted to the feeling of safety she has with him, but not more than the equally paralysing and invigorating fear that keeps her with a man who kicks the shit out of her nightly before fucking her.
This all too real situation gives the surreal augmented reality and increasingly outlandish situations that follow an emotional anchor. And, boy oh boy, does Iglesia ever heap on the crazy, twisting elements of Beauty and the Beast into a demented, darkly funny fable.
Serious kudos to Carlos Areces' fearless performance as Javier; I'd be hard-pressed to think of a less flattering role, but he attacks his character's transformations with aplomb.
Tragic, uncomfortably funny, at least a tad pretentious and extremely over the top, this high-wire act will find a dedicated, but limited audience for its brand of poignant, arty weirdness. (Mongrel Media)