Alex de la Iglesia (director/writer) has brought to us a film that revels in its strangeness but at the same time, creates an almost magical experience (up to a point) that is beyond anything I have seen all year. The trailer (the red band) was/is one of the most bizarre pitches for a film, and I can guarantee you that The Last Circus will strike you in some fashion (good or bad). The first half of the film plays out like a brutal version of Water for Elephants, with a shy and timid character starting new in a circus and falling in love with his bosses’ girlfriend/wife. After that, the film begins to dive slowly, to the point where the last 10 minutes are almost unbearable.
The Last Circus starts out within the context of a Spanish Civil War, and the rebels capture a circus in order for them to fight alongside in the revolution. The main clown of the circus has a child, Javier, who watches his father become captured by the fascists. The father is forced to do labor for the rest of his life, and when Javier (a teen now) comes to visit his father at the mines he works at, the father tells Javier to become a sad clown and get revenge. Javier then breaks into the mines, blows up an area with dynamite in hopes to free his father. On the way out to escape, the general kills Javier’s father, and falls on his sword causing him to lose his eye. Javier escapes safely, and grows up to work in the circus as a sad clown. Unfortunately he falls in love with the beautiful Natalia, who’s the bosses’ girlfriend. As the relationship develops between Natalia and Javier, violence begins to erupt, until Javier completely snaps and falls down a rabbit hole of insanity.
The Last Circus has an outstanding beginning, which includes a clown running around with a machete and cutting guys to pieces. Besides that, the film introduces these wonderfully dark themes of father/son, loss, and love. The film does become a bit like Water for Elephants, but I actually enjoyed those parts the best, where the drama was high and the character development was important to the plot. Javier and Natalia’s relationship is beautiful and Shakespearean (or romantically tragic). Sergio, Natalia’s boyfriend and Javier’s boss, plays the antagonist whose line, “If I wasn’t a clown, I would be a murderer”, probably sums up the entire films message (mostly). These are extremely damaged characters whose existence has been surrounded by murder and political turmoil, the thematic elements dealing with Spanish politics is lost on me. I don’t know enough about Spain’s history to comment on the films agenda but it seems to saying something about it (wow, that sounds dismissive of me).
The most enjoyment I had from The Last Circus was the look at these people who are supposed to be funny, but in reality, they’re all a bunch of damaged characters who are all trying to shut out the world. The performances are great and I felt moved at times, especially for Javier who just wanted to be like his father and make people laugh. The supporting characters held their weight (like most foreign films) and not any one person felt contrived, though the situations at the end did. The film looks great as well, with a punchy-dark filter that makes The Last Circus feel its set in the apocalypse.
At about the halfway point, after the Water for Elephants bit is over, the movie seems to take a dive in the writing. Not that it’s horrible per se, but The Last Circus blows its wad in the first half. Javier is exiled and slowly slips into insanity, which works but they add some elements that seem rather silly. When he comes back to take revenge (in some sweet makeup), he is not the loose cannon that you would like to see him be. The last 10 minutes is a duel, which goes on far too long and comes about because the director didn’t know where to go (presumably).
The Last Circus is a weird experience that can be beautiful at times and is worth seeing no matter how you feel about clowns (they use to frighten me). When this film has its head in the game, it delivers but at some point it begins to drift from its message. The only problem I had dealt the writing after that halfway point; I can’t find any other problems within the film that stood out. The Shakespearian themes mixed with a politically charged agenda is fantastic (though I was lost on the politics) and every one of you needs to catch this when Magnet releases it.
The Last Circus