It’s hard to compare “The Last Circus” to other films, though it’s not an impossible task to find some similarities or homages to other cinematic works littered across the Alex De La Iglesia directed Spanish-language picture.
The story begins in 1937 where a happy clown is forced to join a bloody battle during a children’s performance while still in make-up, handed only a machete, and massacres a whole platoon single-handedly. Jump to 1973, the son of the Happy Clown, Javier, attempts to follow in his footsteps, but, at the suggestion of his father, instead takes up a career as a Sad Clown. Joining a small circus, he is welcomed with open arms by all but his counterpart, the local Happy Clown, Sergio. Thrown head-first into a weird and twisted sort of love-triangle, Sergio and Javier must somehow learn to come to terms with each other’s differences or destroy everything that stands between them, including themselves.
The theatrical trailers establish it’s serious tone, but completely allude to the fact that this movie is a dark comedy. It’s this subjective humor that lightens the incredibly grim storytelling while also serving as the propellant to the next disturbing moment in the grand scheme of things to unravel.
The orchestral score is incredible and only serves to heighten the tension before suddenly jarring you about like a couple of beans in a tin can. The source cues were appropriately selected. One in particular, “Balada Triste de Trompeta*” (“A Sad Trumpet Balad”) by Raphael serves to drive the film’s plot forward.
*The original footage for this song can be found on YouTube, which really should be watched to fully appreciate one of the film’s crowning moments, in terms of directing.
The makeup team should definitely be nominated this coming Academy Awards for their tremendous work on both Sergio’s Happy Clown and Javier’s Sad Clown. I don’t forsee their likenesses escaping my thoughts anytime soon.
Where the film may falter is at brief moments of certain special effects, which aren’t horribly done, but distract you just long enough to remind you that you are still watching a film. Also worth noting is that at some moments the translation may come off as cheesy, maybe simplistic, which becomes obvious almost instantly when the title of the film, “Balada Triste de Trompeta” is subtitled as “The Last Circus”. Like any great foreign film though, you forget you’re reading dialogue five minutes in and are strapped in until the very end.
Three-quarters of the way through, my impression for the film was almost skeptical of it’s worth for it’s several “Best Picture” nominations from various film committees. Sure it’s entertaining and the elements were there, the antoganist/protagonist dynamic was uniquely refreshing, but where was that defining moment? The part that makes you say “WOW, I’m glad I watched this”. That defining moment lies within the final five minutes, where everything comes full circle, opens your eyes, and makes you shake your head in disbelief of how poetic this masterpiece ends up becoming.
"The Last Circus" is a bloody fairytale that manages to escape playing-it-safe and swings-for-the-fences. Does it strike out or hit a home-run? This film will absolutely polorize opinion, not unlike what "No Country for Old Men" did. Did I somehow find a way to compare it to the 2007 Best Picture Academy Award Winner?
Yeah, I did.