The Last Circus
the last circus | alex de la iglesia | carlos areces | antonio de la torre | carolina bang | comedy | drama | spain | france | clown | clowns | manuel tallafe | aledjandro tejerias | manuel tejada | enrique villen | gracia olayo | sancho gracia | santiago segura
Film: The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Writer: Álex de la Iglesia
Starring: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre and Carolina Bang
This film was one that I only checked out, because I was working at a Family Video. I remember when it was released and I was quite intrigued by the trailer that would play in the store. The case of the DVD also caught my interest and I finally gave in to taking it home. I have to say that first viewing was wild. I hadn’t seen it since and then a local podcast showed it as part of their monthly event at my theater where I saw it on 35mm. I’ve now given it a third viewing for The Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge series for the 2010s. The synopsis is a young trapeze artist must decide between her lust for Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), the Happy Clown, or her affection for Javier (Carlos Areces), the Sad Clown, both of whom are deeply disturbed.
We start during the Spanish Civil War in Spain, back in the 1937. At the circus, we have a couple of clowns putting on their routine. Soldiers bust in and announce any males of age must come with them. There’s an argument between the captain of the militia (Fernando Guillén Cuervo) and the sad clown (Fofito), with the happy clown (Santiago Segura) trying to smooth it over. In the end they’re ‘drafted’ and the happy clown is actually one of the heroes in the battle, in a losing effort. The clown is placed in jail and his son, Javier (Sasha Di Bendetto) comes to visit him. He tells Javier that revenge needs to be his way to happiness or he should be a sad clown, because a lot of bad has happened to him that he’ll never be funny.
This gives Javier the idea to take out Colonel Salcedo (Sancho Gracia) to free his father. He uses some dynamite to blow up where they’re working. Javier also stabs the colonel in the eye, which allows him to get away.
We jump to 1973, where the boy has grown up. He has been hired to be the sad clown in a circus and will be working with Sergio, who is the main attraction as the happy clown. He is taken around to meet everyone with Ramiro (Manuel Tallafé) where he is introduced to the beautiful Natalia (Carolina Bang). Javier immediately falls in love with her beauty, but learns that she’s seeing Sergio.
That night Javier goes to a local diner to join the rest of his co-workers. It is here that he upsets Sergio by not laughing at his joke which is in bad taste. Natalia tries to calm him down, but gets knocked out in the process. When everyone leaves, Javier gets the idea to go back to check on her. He gets a taste of how their relationship really is, when the couple has sex with him there behind a wall.
Natalia takes a liking to Javier though. He treats her good and the two of them run off on dates together. After the first one, Sergio goes to her trailer and she’s not there. He asks Javier the next day and he lies to him. During their second date, he actually catches them and puts Javier in the hospital. We see that both of them are not mentally stable though as Javier escapes and maim Sergio’s face. This is only the beginning of the nightmare as Javier encounters Colonel Salcedo before he finally snaps. Both Javier and Sergio go on a rampage as it seems Spain is falling apart around them.
I’m definitely glad that I did finally revisit this one a couple of times now. When I saw that it was playing, I knew I had to catch it on the big screen especially with how wild it really is. There’s actually much more to the story here than initially remembered. I also love the idea that they’re dueling clowns though, as it adds a layer of creepiness.
The first thing that struck me is the time and place that it is set. We are seeing that the Spanish Civil War really tore these people part. Javier’s family has a long list of clowns including his father, but it seems they were all happy clowns. He is separated from his father most of his life and really doesn’t have a lot of good happening to him. I love that his father tells him to channel that, but also plants the seeds of revenge. Javier has experienced death his whole life and being funny really isn’t something he can do. There’s only so much he can take before he snaps. It is also intriguing though, Franco came to power in Spain, which I’m gathering is that he was the Fascist leader. I think shifting it to the 70’s is showing that these people in power are still around and how long the Salcedo is waiting. It is also fitting though that Spain is falling apart like these two men.
On the other side though, the root of all this evil is Natalia. I’ll admit, she is absolutely gorgeous so I can see why these two men would fight over her. She is with Sergio, but he has a drinking problem and his temper is horrible. What is crazy though is how good he is with children. He is better looking than Javier, so it is fitting that he is maimed, ruining his looks and forcing him on the outside how he is in on the inside. Natalia is only with him, because of how good a lover he is. I can’t blame her there, but sticking with him is horrible when he is beating her. On the other hand, Javier isn’t as good looking, but he is willing to treat her right. It really is kind of a depressing thing and Natalia is called out in this movie for trying to have her cake and eat it too. She can choose whoever she wants, my problem here is leading on Javier and upsetting Sergio.
This film really does take you on a wild ride. It is interesting that for its 107 minute runtime, it doesn’t really feel like it. We are jumping right in to some of the trauma a young Javier is experiencing before getting right into him as an adult. It clearly doesn’t stop there until he snaps. The ending is pretty dark, but if I’m going to be honest, I think it is fitting for the overall feel. It really kind of becomes a cautionary tale for these two men. It is also fitting how they both end up.
To change it up, I want to move to the effects next. We don’t really get a lot early on. There is some blood when Sergio is beating up on people that look good. There is the transformation scene though with Javier when he’s being held captive. It is insane and looks so real. From there I think we get a bit of CGI. It doesn’t necessarily hold up, but there isn’t a lot of it so it doesn’t run the movie. The film also has a feel of dark fairy tale. How it is shot really gives it that feel, which is good.
That takes me to the acting. I think to be honest it is good across the board. Areces is a character that I feel bad for and when he snaps it really is scary. He loses touch with reality, where he actually sees Natalia as an angel wanting him to kill. The amount of bad things that happen to him, it makes a lot of sense to snap like he does. He’s really just pushed to the edge and falls over it. Torre plays such a dual role. He’s mean to pretty much everyone sober, but when he gets around kids he’s great. He’s quite violent and really just a jerk in general, which is great when his face matches him inside. I’ve pretty much said my peace on Bang, she had a really good performance to get the reaction out of me that she got. I would say that the rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
The last thing to cover would the soundtrack which on this last viewing I really appreciated. There was a sad song that is sang by a clown here that I really liked. That clown is also sad and it really just made me feel even worse for Javier. It makes sense that he falls in love it like he does. There is also this undercurrent of military music throughout the movie. It is fitting the vibe of what was going on in Spain as well as how things end up in the movie. I’m actually quite impressed here to be honest.
Now with that said, this one definitely lived up to what I remember about it. It is wild film where we have two demented humans are pushed to the limit for the love of a woman. There is also a correlation to the state of this country it takes place as well. I really did think that the acting is good, as that really drives a lot of the movie. The effects were solid across the board, especially what happens to Javier and how Sergio ends up looking. The pacing does build tension, but it does get crazy near the end of the film. The soundtrack adds a feel that I enjoyed. I will admit though, this is from Spain and France, so I had to watch it with subtitles on both times. If that’s an issue, I’d avoid this, but if this sounds interesting, definitely give it a viewing.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10