(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is a sensational surreal horror/comedy fairy tale co-written and directed by Basque auteur Álex de la Iglesia (THE OXFORD MURDERS). It has to be the weirdest and one of the funniest films I have seen in quite a while. As time goes on, everything in THE LAST CIRCUS becomes more grotesque and dreamlike. Manic and dark and surreal but fun all the way, Iglesia's story seems like a high intensity version of a Guillermo del Toro film crossed with a Quentin Tarantino film. It is breathtaking, beautiful, and weird. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

In 1937 in Madrid a small circus soldiers on trying to make a living with the Spanish Civil War going on around it. The clown who until then only been delighting children with his jokes is drafted into the Republican army and in minutes is facing the Fascists. He is not even allowed to change out of his clown costume because he is to be the enemy's strangest nightmare, a clown with a machete. Though captured by the Fascists he becomes a local legend. Along the way the clown sees the ugly face of human brutality. When his son Javier finds him months later the son says he wants to be a clown like his father. His father just tells him that after all that has happened he must be a sad clown, not a happy one like he had been. Flash forward to 1973 and Javier joins a circus but finds even in peacetime he cannot escape from brutality. The head clown, Sergio, has a sadistic relationship with a beautiful acrobat, Natalia. Javier wants to rescue Natalia, but he is no match for Sergio. Strange plot twists and strange visuals lie ahead for him as the war of the clowns begins.

What an amazing film THE LAST CIRCUS is! You can tell immediately from the spellbinding montage under the titles that you are in the hands of a consummate filmmaker. Basque co-writer and director Álex de la Iglesia keeps changing settings and dragging us from a circus, to the streets of battle of the Spanish Civil war, back to a new circus, over the streets of Madrid, and on and on. The viewer knows only that wherever the film goes, he wants to follow. What starts as an account of a civil war tragedy transforms to a melodrama set in a foundering circus and on to a forest with a clown who has become a feral animal, to crime film, to a battle of monster against monster, on and on, surprising the viewer. Iglesia's fertile imagination seems to know no bounds. His film constantly is metamorphosing. He joins the visual imagination like that of Jean-Pierre Jeunet to melodrama turned up to Grand Guignol. Without ever lecturing to the viewer the film becomes a parable on the subject of inhumanity as the happy clown and the sad clown battle each other to the death.

In the early more rational parts of the story the style is relatively normal with some exaggeration. When Sergio hits people they slide across the floor in the manner of the 1960s Batman. Mixed with this cartoonish fighting is strong violence--some we see and some we do not see. It is hard to imagine how this film could be more frantic or bizarre in any way. The pace is fast and the combination of styles is unique. This film really took me by surprise. It is a totally unique film. I rate THE LAST CIRCUS (BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA) a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.

This film has graphic sex and even more graphic violence. For those who subscribe to Netflix Streaming the film is currently scheduled be available from now through November 17, 2014. The Spanish title, BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA, literally means "Ballad of the Sad Trumpet". Apparently that is the title of a song well known in Spain, but which would be unknown in the United States. It would not capture the feel of the film. Nor does THE LAST CIRCUS for that matter. I am not sure you can capture the feel of this film in a title.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper