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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.29.11] United Kingdom Spain movie review action drama

Year: 2010
Directors: Álex de la Iglesia
Writers: Álex de la Iglesia
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 4 out of 10

The Last Circus is the latest film from Álex de la Iglesia (Acción Mutante, The Day of the Beast, etc) and it’s full of stuff happening all over the place. Tons of stuff: people fighting, exploding, mutilating each other, shooting guns, blasting themselves into the air, falling in love and never once pausing for breath. For the first twenty minutes or so this is all agreeably daft and fun, but after an hour the actions of the grotesque circus folk on screen had me worn down to the point of actual boredom. This film was a battle I was happy to fight until I realised that I was losing.

Javier (Carlos Areces) has a major case of arrested development after witnessing his father’s demise at the hands of the fascists during the Spanish civil war (all while dressed in his clown outfit) and decides to honor his memory by becoming a clown himself, although he concedes that he’ll always be a Sad Clown as he has nothing to laugh about. He joins a circus in Madrid and meets the foul Happy Clown, Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) who takes an instant disliking to the nerdy frump and bullies him mercilessly over dinner. Javier has eyes for Sergio’s girlfriend Natalia, (Carolina Bang) the circus acrobat who’s masochistic tendencies fall in line with Sergio’s sadistic sexual kicks. In a misguided attempt to free Natalia, Javier beats Sergio repeatedly in the face with a trumpet, leaving him looking like leatherface on a bad day. Cast out of the circus Javier miraculously meets the man who killed his father, and becomes his slave (!) and human-pet. Eventually going insane, Javier melts his own face off and creates some permanent clown make-up, raids the local arsenal and goes on a killing spree. Uh-huh.

Iglesia has a certain style that’s very evident from his early films; a kind of demented energy, wild imagination and eye-popping visual flair, and it’s a real shame that he’s not built on that to form any storytelling technique that works to create real drama and humanity in his new film. The characters are essentially two-dimensional cut-outs and the most interesting thing about the film is the camera work and costumes, not the story, which culminates with a chase scene atop a colossal crucifix which seems to last forever. There are lots of neat touches, and winks at the camera, references to Tarantino and Jodorowsky come fast but don’t linger, and the actors are all trying their best to carry the story without letting it completely unfurl but it’s not enough to distract from the fact that the film it totally empty.

We are gallingly asked to care about characters whose motivations we care nothing about, and that’s a cinematic crime. I’m not usually such a stick-in-the-mud about things like this - I like Iglesia’s early work and I was looking forward to this film - but it just doesn’t add up to anything whatsoever. I’m all for a psychotic clown running around shooting people, but there has to be some kind of achievement for it to satisfy, but all I felt afterwards was relief to leave the cinema, and unease at the levels of misogyny I had witnessed. There’s also one terribly misjudged scene involving a child that I could have lived without, and felt very much as if the director were trying desperately to be ‘hardcore’.

After the screening I was alarmed that there was a round of applause from the crowd, although I was gratified that my film going friend with whom I’ve been seeing many films this year was keeping his arms resolutely folded, as was I. This audience had appreciated the madness and energy of The Last Circus, (I guess…) but I keep coming back to a quote from the director in a recent interview; “I am tired of films having to be coherent.” I just wish I’d known that going in.

I’ll be back for more EIFF coverage in 2012!

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Dabbld (10 years ago) Reply

I can understand the reviewer's point of view to a certain extent, although I politely disagree.

I don't think this unique film could have been improved by bowing to a more traditional form of storytelling or giving the characters more meaningful depth.

The demented farce that THE LAST CIRCUS is works almost perfectly in its own way and to me it's a must-see movie!

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