31/31 Day 18: The Last Circus

Posted: October 18, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Film, Reviews

Today, Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus (aka Sad Trumpet Ballad) hits DVD and Blu-Ray here in the States. With few exceptions, I’m a big fan of this Spanish director’s work.

The Baby’s Room, released in a collection called “6 Films to Keep you Awake” in 2008,  is fun and spooky. However, it’s less indicative of Iglesia’s unhinged style than the darkly funny religious horror film, The Day of the Beast, which is sadly difficult to track down in the States. (When will we get a proper release of Day of the Beast? WHEN?) The Last Circus is a return to the unpredictable blend of violence and the absurd that I associate with him so fondly.

How does one briefly describe this film? “Clown horror?” No, that won’t do. “Mutilation love triangle?” That doesn’t work either. “War comedy?” “Circus revenge?” I give up. Other than “an Alex de la Iglesia movie about clowns,” it can’t easily be defined. We have to start somewhere, so here’s the official summary:

Javier, a Sad Clown, finds work in a circus where he befriends an outlandish cast of characters, including the brutish Happy Clown, Sergio, who humiliates Javier daily in the name of entertainment. It is here that he meets Natalia, a gorgeous acrobat and abused wife of Sergio. Javier falls deeply in love with Natalia and tries to rescue her from her cruel and violent husband, unleashing Sergio’s jealousy. With neither man willing to back down, this twisted love triangle evolves into a ferocious battle between Sad Clown and Happy Clown, escalating to unbelievable heights in this shocking, irreverent and unforgettable film.

We open with a powerful and severe credits sequence in which stark images and pounding music set the mood. Before moving on to address the plot, I do want to say that the visuals in this film are quite stunning. The settings are alive with color and action, the cinematography is beautiful, and the character designs are wonderfully strange. Especially the clowns. Lovable, tragic, violent, and horrifying clowns. (If you suffer from Coulrophobia, skip this one.)

Our story begins with Javier’s childhood. A group of good-natured clowns try to distract and entertain frightened children while the Spanish Civil War rages outside. A militia interrupts the performance and Javier’s father, a “Happy” clown, is recruited to join the fight and is quickly handed a machete. Still dressed in a goofy circus costume, he asks if he should change before charging the enemy. “Never!” is the reply. ” A clown with a machete? You’ ll scare the shit out of them!” I shudder at the thought and can’t agree more. That’s what you’re in for, folks.

It’s not long before we cut to following Javier as an adult. Although he’d always been eager to follow in his jovial father’s footsteps, too much violence and tragedy have led him to the path of the “Sad” clown. He joins a circus and meets a number of bizarre characters. All terribly damaged adults who still care deeply for the happiness and innocence of children. Most important of all, he meets Sergio the Happy clown, his cruel new partner, and Sergio’s abused lover, Natalia, a gorgeous trapeze artist. These three form a warped love triangle that becomes integral to the film.

From there… From there, I can’t help you. In the simplest terms, Sad clown, Javier, and Happy clown, Sergio, wage war over Natalia. And whether they like it or not, Sad and Happy clowns are meant to be together. The rest is an absolutely mad fever-dream of laughs, sex, loss, humiliation, and mutilation. (Some truly hideous character transformations are guaranteed to make you wince.) The climactic scenes started to drag a little for me, but otherwise, I have no complaints.

The Last Circus is thrilling. Unpredictable. Fucking clowns. You’ll have no idea where this film is going, but I think you’ll enjoy the ride.

  1. […] No me sorprende que cueste tan poco encontrar comentarios favorables sobre Balada triste de trompeta en la blogosfera americana. […]

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