Not since Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, or at least Full Moon Pictures’ Killjoy, has the world of circus clowning been given so dark an acid bath.
In this case, I mean that somewhat literally. Director Álex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus (though I prefer its original Spanish title: Sad Trumpet Ballad) is a wickedly entertaining, ferociously political and only desultorily sane entry in the unsurprisingly vast big-top-as-mad-house subgenre.
Doughy, cry-eyed Carlos Areces stars as Javier, a second-generation circus clown whose father was recruited in the 1930s to hack a bunch of people to death in Civil War-torn Spain. The legacy has left Javier overwhelmed with tinges of triste, which color (or, rather, don’t) his own clown act.
Eventually, his relationship with the circus’s maniacal head clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) becomes strained not only by Javier’s refusal to honk his own nose for cheap laughs, but also by Sergio’s trapeze-artist girlfriend Natalia’s (Carolina Bang) burgeoning taste for the tears of a specific clown.
Somewhere buried among this grotesque carnivalism is a parable for both Spain’s entrance into and exit from the Franco era.
No matter how much of a frown Javier paints onto his visage, he can’t seem to escape his genetic legacy. Like father, like son. Oh yes, among those peanut shells and pancake-soaked sponges, there will be blood.
Iglesia paints his canvas with broad strokes, begging the question of whether any director out there has it in them to make a tasteful, subtle, minimalistic circus drama one of these days.
Until then, wear your bulletproof vest, drop your enhancement of choice and get your three-ring on. The Last Circus plays tonight at the Trylon Microcinema as part of their invaluable Tuesday premieres series.