Friday, October 14, 2011

THE LAST CIRCUS / Staff Review by Dave Paiz

The Last Circus is the best, most brilliantly bizarre psycho clown movie you'll see this year. It's also a quasi-monster movie and brutally tragic love story that left an indelible imprint on this reviewer’s psyche. The tale of an ill-fated love triangle isn’t exactly a new one, but director Alex de la Iglesia executes this one in a wildly over-the-top and unpredictable fashion that boggles the mind and blisters the senses.

As the newest member of a small traveling circus, Javier (Carlos Areces) is the Sad Clown, a kind, bespectacled man-child who falls hard for the wrong woman and ends up paying dearly for it. As the son of a Happy Clown who, years before, unexpectedly discovered a monstrous side of himself he never new existed, Javier unknowingly embarks on a similar path in the name of Love, and the end result isn't pretty.

In this case, and illustrating why it’s rarely a good idea to get romantically involved with a co-worker, Javier becomes infatuated with fellow circus performer Natalia (Carolina Bang) - the abused wife of the charismatic, yet relentlessly brutal Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), the Happy Clown and de facto leader of the circus. Sergio is a violent, drunken beast who humiliates Javier on stage and off, and beats Natalia senseless when his fragile ego is challenged. Despite his brutish demeanor, his fellow performers defer to him out of fear, and because the Happy Clown is the main attraction and unrivaled backbone of the circus.

Following a selfless act of kindness, Javier quite unexpectedly finds himself the object of Natalia’s reckless and ill-advised flirtations. The two then engage in a sort of clandestine puppydog courtship that ultimately pits Javier against Sergio in an epic battle of clown versus clown for the heart of the woman they both love. What follows is a dizzying descent into madness, and a deeply symbolic depiction of what happens when fantasy overwhelms reality, and the selfish desire to possess and control another consumes everything in its path.

Javier's character is the only one given much of a back story, and we're left to guess about why Sergio and Natalia are the way they are, but what the film lacks in character development it more than makes up for thematically and stylistically. Circuses are all about appearance and performance, and the absence of character depth and detail underscores their largely symbolic roles as the distilled essences of male and female egos driven mad and ripped asunder by love and lust.

The last time I remember seeing “The Last...” as part of a film title was The Last Airbender. As the original Spanish title of the film is Balada Triste de Trompeta (A Sad Trumpet Ballad), the studio execs probably felt that The Last Circus was a more marketable title. Rest assured that de la Iglesia’s film is in no way related to M. Night Shyamalan's most recent pile of cinematic excrement.

If you can imagine a cinematic love child endowed with the stylistic DNA of Terry Gilliam and Robert Rodriguez, and midwifed by Brian DePalma, or Tony Montana as The Joker in a phantasmagorically surreal sequel to John Woo’s Face/Off, then you’ll come close to de la Iglesia’s dark, demented vision of love, betrayal and revenge.

With a pulse-pounding score and gritty, hyperkinetic cinematography that veers from the ethereal to the violently nightmarish, The Last Circus is a richly textured hallucinatory feast for the senses, and an unqualified must-see for anyone with a taste for the weird and unconventional.

THE LAST CIRCUS opens Friday, October 14th at The Loft Cinema.

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