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The Last Circus(2010)
1937: Spain is in the midst of the brutal Spanish Civil War. A "Happy" circus clown is interrupted mid-performance and forcibly recruited by a militia. Still in his costume, he is handed a machete and led into battle against National soldiers, where he single handedly massacres an entire platoon. Fast forward to 1973, the tail end of the Franco regime.
For more about The Last Circus and the The Last Circus Blu-ray release, see the The Last Circus Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 6, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Carlos Areces, Carolina Bang, Antonio de la Torre, Manuel Tallafé, Sancho Gracia, Santiago Segura
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
» See full cast & crew
The Last Circus Blu-ray Review
The Insane Clown Posse could learn a thing or two from this circus shocker.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 6, 2011
I'm willing to bet that The Last Circus will be unlike anything else you've seen this year. I won't claim it's a masterpiece—it's not, although I can see it attaining cult classic status in certain circles—but it is bracingly and deliciously over-the-top, a bizarre freakshow allegory that compares a pair of diametrically opposed psychotic clowns to the polarization of Spain during the country's civil war in the late 1930s. Yes, you read that right. At every turn, the film defies easy classification. Is it a horror movie? A love story? A political screed? An evocation of a specific time in Spanish history? An ode to the sad lives of circus folk? The answer seems to be all of the above and more. It's an experience—and that's definitely the right word—that's so inflated with passion and stuffed with indelible imagery that it feels like it might explode at any second, a cinematic balloon filled with confetti and tinsel. In the film's prologue, a clown in drag in a pink dress, with ringlets of blond hair like the Cowardly Lion, goes on a machete rampage, slicing and dicing up General Franco's troops as bullets whiz all around him, and this is only the beginning of The Last Circus' non-stop lunacy.
This fascist-slaying circus jester is Andrés (Enrique Villén), and before he gets locked away for good in a political prison for his massacre, he commands his meek young son, Javier, to do two things: 1.) become a sad clown, and 2.) expurgate his sorrow through revenge. Both will come to pass. After a botched prison break and Andrés' death at the hands of an evil officer, the film jumps forward to the comparatively peaceful days of the early 1970s, as Javier (Carlos Areces)—now in his forties, pudgy, and as timid as ever—gets a job in a rinky-dink traveling circus as a payaso triste, the glum-faced foil to the circus' Happy Clown, star-performer Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), a domineering brute who claims, "If I weren't a clown, I'd be a murderer."
And we believe him. When he gets drunk, as he does every night, he turns into a jealous sadist, beating up his trapeze artist girlfriend, Natalia (the sexily named Carolina Bang), who's something of a masochist and refuses to leave him even though she knows he might seriously hurt her someday. She's a bit of a flirt too, though, and begins spending time with Javier—who's utterly in love with her—viewing him as something akin to a safe, puppy dog companion. So far, so normal, right? But what begins as a fairly typical love triangle eventually becomes something much darker and more amorphous when Javier bludgeons Sergio nearly to death with a trumpet, leaving the Happy Clown with a grotesque face crudely stitched up in some rural veterinarian's back room.
From here, the level of intensity—and utter insanity—escalates without stopping. Just when you think it's weird enough that Javier is trouncing through the woods, naked and mud-covered, eating raw elk meat to survive, he gets captured by the ex-officer who killed his father and is forced to become a kind of human hunting dog who literally bites the hand that feeds—in this case, General Franco's. But baby you ain't seen nothing yet. After horribly scarifying his face and lips with a flat iron—essentially giving himself permanent clown makeup—Javier makes a new costume out of bishop's robes, straps bands of ammo across his chest, and heads into town with two submachine guns to wreak ungodly havoc, shooting up diners and driving around like a maniac in a commandeered ice cream truck.
It's absolute off-the-deep-end madness, and if it doesn't always make sense, it's at least captivating to watch. The absurdity peaks with the climactic battle between Sad Clown and Happy Clown over the woman they both love, which takes place atop an enormous stone crucifix, a monument to the soldiers who fell during the war. Obviously, there's some symbolism at work here, and if I had to parse it out I would say that Javier represents the Republican side of the conflict and Sergio the Franco/fascist Nationalists, while Natalie stands for the hearts of the Spanish people, caught in the middle. The final conclusion seems to be: Republicans? Nationalists? What's the difference? They're both clowns. Then again, I'm no expert in mid-century Spanish politics, so I might be reading it all wrong.
The Last Circus was directed by Álex de la Iglesia, but don't hold his most recent film, the frankly awful English-language Oxford Murders, against him. Iglesia goes for broke here, staging impressively executed guns-ablazin' action scenes, arranging moments of fierce interpersonal drama—see the fear and loathing in Javier's eyes as Sergio brutally has his way with Natalie after beating her up—and serving up one inscrutably strange image after another. He comes off like a more lowbrow, genre-oriented Alejandro Jodorwosky, who—if we're being honest—is himself a low-rent, metaphysics-obsessed Fellini. But Iglesia is also the bastard son of Tarantino and comic books; he's got a pulp aesthetic that values blood and guts and tough dames nonetheless in distress, sexual kinks and historical revisionism. You might think of The Last Circus as Spain's Inglourious Basterds.
All of this works beautifully…until it doesn't, early in the film's third act. You get the sense that Iglesia overextended himself trying to construct a finale that's simultaneously epic and intimate, action-heavy and touching. The earlier scenes balance eccentricity with genuine, if exaggerated, emotion, but the end's shift to sheer spectacle—including the 500-foot-tall CGI cross where the final fight is waged—overshadows any emotional attachment we had with the characters. Besides, by this point, they're too far gone inside their own psychosis and rage to be relatable or sympathetic. This is partially the point—war makes men into unrecognizably grotesque clowns—but it keeps The Last Circus from having much impact beyond shock value. Still, if you're a fan of crazy cinema, you've got to watch it—where else will you see a dress-wearing clown hack and slash an entire regiment of fascist troops?
The Last Circus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Shot digitally and thoughtfully color graded, The Last Circus' picture quality is just as striking as the film itself, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded digital-to-digital transfer that's clean, vivid, and impressively sharp. You'll notice it in the screenshots, but it's just as apparent in motion—the image almost always exhibits a high level of clarity. For examples of the fine details on display, look no further than the skin texture visible beneath the two clowns' heavy make-up, or the grisly mutilations that turn their faces into ravaged grotesqueries. Elsewhere, you'll notice the intricacies of the costuming—the stitching and sequins, baubles and threading—and the general sharpness of the props and backgrounds. Color is more impressionistic than realistic, with vibrant golds and purples and reds, and highlights that tend to be creamy rather than white. The overall color cast shifts from scene to scene, sometimes warm and nostalgic-looking and occasionally icy cool. Contrast is enhanced, and while black levels are plenty deep, shadows overwhelm detail in certain scenes, although this is clearly intentional. Since the film was shot digitally there's no grain to contend with, and noise stays tamed with the exception of a few darker scenes. Likewise, I didn't spot any compression issues or encode quirks. I imagine this is exactly how the film is supposed to look.
The Last Circus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As usual for their foreign-language releases, Magnolia Home Entertainment has included two lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks here— the original Spanish mix and a decent but in no way preferable English dub. Stick with the Spanish if you can help it. From the very first frames, you know this track is going to be engaging and carefully designed. Even before we see a picture we hear children's laughter emerging from the blackness, coming out of all speakers. Throughout, the full soundfield is utilized for effects—gunshots popping off between channels, cars zipping from left to right, and LFE-heavy explosions emanating from all sides—along with environment-establishing ambience like crickets, heavy rain, and other outdoorsy sounds. Roque Baños bombastic score is spread throughout all 5.1 speakers too, and the music sounds excellent—rich and dynamic. There are times when dialogue sounds a bit low in the mix—particularly during the more action-heavy scenes—but this is rarely an issue. Voices are usually clean and clear and, of course, you'll have subtitles to help you out anyway unless you're a native Spanish speaker.
The Last Circus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Last Circus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Demented clowns are nothing new to cinema, but the way they're used here—as manifestations of the warring factions of Spain's civil war—certainly is. And while The Last Circus falls short of true greatness, it's crazy enough to more than hold your attention. Really, you won't be able to look away. The film looks fantastic on Blu-ray, too, so if you're down for some baroque and depraved clown-on-clown action, give The Last Circus a go.
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The Last Circus Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Alex de la Iglesia's The Last Circus Comes to Blu-ray - August 4, 2011
In early announcement to retailers, Magnolia Pictures has indicated that it will release on Blu-ray acclaimed Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia's highly anticipated Balada triste de trompeta a.k.a The Last Circus (2010), starring Carlos Areces, Antonio de la ...
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