John Bruni reviews The Last Circus

The Last Circusaka Balada Triste De Trompeta (Original Title)
107 min., 2010
Written by Álex De La Iglesia
Directed by Álex De La Iglesia
Language: Spanish
My rating: ★★★★★

“Because if I wasn’t a clown, I’d be a murderer.”

* * *

For most people, the idea of a scary clown is absurd. Clowns are supposed to make people laugh, not cry. Then again, Lon Chaney once said that if you take the same clown you laughed and thrilled at while visiting the circus and put him on your doorstep at midnight . . . that’s a different thing.

Meet Javier. His father was a clown and his father before him. As a young boy, he watched his father get forcibly drafted by the Spanish army to defend against invaders who were literally at the gates of their city. Still dressed in his clown outfit, Javier’s father charges into a blood orgy of gunshot wounds and slit throats, armed with only a knife and a will to survive.

Too bad the Spanish lose, and everyone is either executed or enslaved. Javier’s father is among the latter, and his last advice to his son is to be a sad clown, because that is his lot in life. Because of the war, he doesn’t get to have a childhood. This depressing point is also driven home when Javier accidentally gets his father killed when he bombs the mine he’s forced to work in. In the confusion, and in an attempt to save his father’s life, he attacks an officer, cutting out one of the fellow’s eyes.

This is a lot of back story and necessary information for the rest of the movie, and while it’s very good, it’s also a bit big and clunky to have before the actual story begins. Perhaps the film would have been better served with this information disseminated through a series of flashbacks.

A minor quibble. Shoot ahead a few decades, and Javier is putting on the sad clown’s make-up. He has just been hired by a circus, and this is his first day on the job. He runs afoul of his cruel boss, Sergio, and quickly falls in love with Natalia, Sergio’s battered wife. In a rather uncomfortable scene, as the circus workers are eating in a diner after the show, Javier doesn’t laugh at a joke told by Sergio, the happy clown of the show. Javier just doesn’t get it. Natalia tries to lighten things up, and Sergio beats the ever-loving shit out of her for her efforts. Javier is horrified, but the other circus workers kind of gloss over the incident. As they leave the place, Natalia still on the floor in a puddle of her own blood, they kid around and laugh tersely with Sergio.

Javier doesn’t think it’s right, and he goes back to make sure she’s okay, only to find out she’s used to getting beaten. Several seconds later, Sergio shows up to apologize to his wife. They waste no time in getting down to some hard fucking in the diner as the waiter closes the place down. Talk about awkward.

Carlos Areces plays Javier to absolute fearless perfection. He’s chunky with clunky big glasses, slightly greasy, and always awkward. He very clearly fears Sergio, but he’s also driven by what he feels is the right thing to do. No matter how badly he wants to back down in the face of violence, he forces himself to stand up to his boss. In one horrible scene, this results in Javier getting hospitalized with several broken ribs.

Antonio de la Torre might be a little over the top in his portrayal of Sergio, especially in the scene where he attacks Javier with a mallet and breaks his ribs. As the cops drag him away, he drunkenly demands a prize (the mallet was a part of the strongman game at the carnival). He comes into his own style, though, near the end of the movie. For all of his flaws, he genuinely likes kids and enjoys making them laugh. However, when Javier gets out of the hospital and learns Natalia is still with Sergio, the sad clown has no choice but to brutally mutilate the happy clown with a broken trumpet. This leaves Sergio a freak who inspires nothing but terror in children. De la Torre does an excellent job at showing Sergio’s angry and despairing response to this.

Special mention should be made to Carolina Bang, who plays Natalia. Poor Javier is too stupid to realize that she’s a monster herself, that she’s using him in some kind of sick play to make her husband feel jealous enough to truly hurt her. The audience has no problem seeing this, especially in the scene when Javier comes upon the silhouette of her getting fucked by Sergio doggie style with plenty of hair-pulling. Her tongue salaciously curls out of her mouth, showing just how much she truly enjoys Sergio.

Yet at the very end of the movie, she makes a decision which seems to contradict everything we have learned about her character, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Yet it leads to a hell of an ugly image.

This movie is full of ugly images. Areces is a fearless actor, not afraid to parade about through the woods completely naked, showing off the smallest dick in cinematic history since Yaniv Sharon ran around Times Square naked for TERROR FIRMER. When he finds himself at the bottom of a well, where animals frequently fall to their death is yet another grim example, especially when the boar falls in and DOESN’T die. To say nothing of the scene when the wounded officer from the prologue finds a naked Javier and treats him literally like a dog . . . . (At one point, he’s forced to carry a dead duck in his mouth.) And then there’s the scene where he mutilates himself with a hot iron to permanently become the sad clown . . . shortly before he goes on a killing spree with an automatic rifle.

De la Iglesia isn’t fucking around with this movie. The execution isn’t perfect, but it’s damned close. Here he gives us everything that is dark and ugly about romance and the human soul. If the final image in this film doesn’t haunt you, then you haven’t been paying attention.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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