Notable Cast: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, Carolina Bang
Review: This is hands down the best Spanish Civil War portrayal told through the point of view of some very mentally unstable clowns…ever. To boot, in the height of a brutal Civil War, the last place you would expect to find the plot to occur is a circus. But from the poster alone, how can you not be drawn in? The Last Circus is a bizarre film that takes a historic event and creates an insane plot around it. But in the end, the film actually carries a much more serious tone than the gun-toting clown poster would make you believe. I expected to get lost in some crazy grindhouse-like film with depraved clown-on-clown brutality. Instead, I watched a total character analysis of a “sad clown,” as the film really busts open the inner workings of this crazed man whose job ironically is to make children laugh. From start to finish, The Last Circus was nothing like I expected, yet completely filled expectations. There’s something to be said about this unique period piece, and that something falls in a very positive spectrum.
So let’s go back to the Spanish Civil War. The country is in a state of turmoil as rebel armies fight back against the government. Civilians are being enlisted to fight left and right in order to win their independence. If you can hold a weapon, you’re put into battle. One night, while two clowns are entertaining a room full of children, rebels break in and force the able-bodied to join rank. Amongst the new recruits is one of the clowns who, still in costume, machetes his way through solider after soldier until he is captured. His son Javier, who is too young to fight, visits his father day after day and tells him that he plans on continuing in his father’s clowning footsteps. Unexpectedly, his father says he must channel all the pain and despair that he experiences in his life, and instead of being a funny clown, become the opposite: a sad clown. He tells his son to become a sad clown in order to avenge his name, and to have his own identity. Fast forward years later, and we join adult Javier (Areces) in his new circus job, where he meets a colorful cast of entertainers. Among them is his alcoholic boss/clown partner Sergio (de la Torre), who embarrasses him on a daily basis. Also among them is Sergio’s wife Natalia (Bang), with whom Javier immediately falls in love. In the worst of times, Javier is forced to either sit by and watch Sergio abuse Natalia or step up and free Natalia from her violent relationship. Javier knows he’s juggling chainsaws with this situation, and it only takes the slightest mistake to drop one with dangerous consequences.
“A clown with a machete, you’ll scare the shit out of them.” A clown with a gun is just as bad….
If you search around trying to do a little research before seeing this film, all the pictures and information you dig up will be a tad misleading. Watching the trailer or seeing stills all show our main character Javier armed to the teeth and blowing through rounds, suggesting this was going to be a mental action packed ride with a Rambo-like clown. But as I sat there, waiting and waiting for more of the high-intensity action featured in the first five minutes, it eventually became apparent that the real action was never going to kick back up. The Last Circus turns out to be a gritty, dark drama, sandwiched between a battle-focused beginning and end. The film is much more focused on Javier’s love interest than the revenge his father wanted him to achieve. It isn’t a bad thing though, because the film is still tense and endearing. Writer/Director Iglesia creates a beautiful rivalry in pitting the happy clown (Sergio) against the sad clown (Javier), really getting to the core of the two characters. Here are these men, whose livelihoods are to brighten up children’s days, but when the makeup comes off, they turn into these creatures who are the complete opposite of their fake personas. The happy clown is actually an abusive drunk who doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and the sad clown is truly a caring individual with a dark past. They both satisfy a certain area of Natalia’s life, and we watch as she strings each along, struggling to choose between the two. It’s the perfect love triangle and the strong driving force of the film.
Now I couldn’t call my next statement a complaint because I thought the film was excellently envisioned, but instead I’ll say that I was disappointed in the lack of action. I indeed went into the film with certain expectations, and from the brief instances of action that I saw, more of it would have been an extremely welcome addition. When Javier is breaking out of his imprisonment, or when his dad is slashing through Spanish soldiers, the gore is completely up to par and the action is edge-of-your-seat entertaining. But again, you’re sitting through a majority of the film just waiting for some more juicy clown rampaging to no avail. The mere prospect of a clown strapped with ammo belts is an epic B-movie waiting to happen, and at first was all I expected from The Last Circus.
But in the end, what I expected to be a quirky B-movie turns out to be a brilliant A-movie, utterly shocking me. The perspective of the film can only be described as intriguing, turning something associated with childish innocence into a deeply layered monster. The Last Circus is an unexpected triumph, mixing a sinister brand of comedy with a dark portrayal of romance…and clowns. It’s funny because some of the scenes are obviously serious, but all the characters are wearing distinguishable makeup and comical clothes. You laugh, but then suddenly things get real again when the clowns start going berserk, and the distraction of their physical appearance immediately leaves your mind. I never truly knew what to expect with The Last Circus, but I can tell you I never once expected the film I got.
Final Rating: 8 deranged cap popping clowns out of 10
I would have been so much happier with more of this…which says a lot based on how happy I was anyway.