Simply brilliant. It’s nice to begin a review with those words, you get the feeling that the words will flow and that you can get the message across to other movie goers as quickly and clearly as possible. So that’s that. Job done.
Oh, I suppose I should offer a bit more detail.
Written and directed by the hugely talented Alex de la Iglesia, The Last Circus begins with a violent battle that features a circus clown who is pretty handy with a machete. It’s 1937 and Franco rules. The clown is dragged along with the many other prisoners who were involved in building the magnificent, and highly controversial to this day, Valle de los Caido (Valley Of The Fallen). His son tries to get some revenge and we then move forward by about 25 years. The son has grown up and is determined to be a clown like his father. The only problem is that he can never be the happy clown his father was so has to settle for being the sad clown. He applies himself and is excellent at it. Trouble starts to brew when he falls in love with the female love of the star happy clown and then the situation esacalates in violence, intensity and insanity.
It’s a love triangle between two different clowns set against the backdrop of a particularly troubled piece of Spanish history. It’s Santa Sangre given a Tarantino makeover. It’s a more comedic, colourful riff on the Freaks storyline. The Last Circus is, in a way, all of these things and much more.
Almost every scene has something to impress and/or astonish and from the very first second to the very last image the movie pushes the rich legacy of characters and archetypes it is both twisting and also giving praise to.
Intentional or not (and I like to think it’s the former), the movie is crammed full of references and homages with every scene full of rich history, be it from the real world or the world of film.
The acting is wonderful. Carlos Areces as “sad clown” Javier somehow manages to keep your sympathy even as his behaviour becomes wilder and more dangerous, Antonio de la Torre as “happy clown” Sergio makes for a great, unrepentant figure and Carolina Bang is suitably attractive as the woman who starts a horrid chain of events. Nobody onscreen misses the mark, which is a great relief considering the constant balancing and changing of tones throughout the movie.
It’s that tonal balance and shift that really caused me to want to praise this so highly. The wince-inducing violence sits side by side with both pitch-black humour and genuine easy chuckles (a running gag with a stunt motorcyclist kept making me laugh out loud, despite it’s predictability). The tension, terror and powerful emotional moments either embrace or somehow sidestep the fact that we’re almost always watching clowns.
Then we get a finale that returns us to Valle de los Caido (nicely referencing a number of classic movies all at once) and entertains as it inspires awe, thrills and a sense of satisfaction to anyone who has had themselves strapped in tightly and gone along for the full carnival ride.
I’m not sure if there are any tickets left but do try to catch The Last Circus when it shows Sun 19 June in FILMHOUSE 1 and Mon 20 June in George Sq Theater, tickets £9 and well worth it if you’re not too squeamish of some of the more violent moments.
DIRECTOR: ALEX DE LA IGLESIA
CAST: CARLOS ARECES, ANTONIO DE LA TORRE, CAROLINA BANG
RUNTIME: 107 MINS APPROX