Second-generation clown Javier has seen just about enough tragedy and suffering in his life.
The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta) is a peculiar comedy/drama/war film written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia and stars Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, and Carolina Bang. The film follows a second-generation clown, Javier, who has seen just about enough tragedy and suffering in his life. It is 1937 and Spain is in the midst of a brutal war. Thousands of citizens were killed as Gen. Franco’s men moved in to purge occupied territories and consolidate his future regime. The resistance was low on fighters and recruited by the militia from wherever extra soldiers could be found—even if that eventually included recruiting clown actors from a circus.
During one of the circus performances, a “happy” clown (Santiago Segura) was handed a machete and led into battle against fascist soldiers. If you were ever afraid of clowns, there isn’t a sight more menacing than a fool rushing towards you wielding a machete. The happy clown manages to take down an entire regime this way. Eventually, he is stopped and imprisoned, forced to work in a dank cave. His son, Javier (Sasha Di Bendetto), visits him in prison and tells him that he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and be a “happy” clown. His father tells him to be a “sad” clown instead, for he has known much sadness in his life.
It is now 1973, and Javier (Carlos Areces) is seeking work at a local circus as the Sad Clown. There he meets a curious lot of characters, including Natalia (Carolina Bang), the beautiful, masochistic circus acrobat whom he falls deeply in love with. Unfortunately for him, she is the wife of Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), a tyrannical, violent, and mean-spirited “happy clown.” Sergio takes every opportunity to humiliate Javier as they are paired circus performers. The two men eventually clash over their love for Natalia to the point of suffering the ultimate price of their selfishness and pride. What evolves is a violent ménage of tormented sexual encounters and an emergence of heroism on the part of Javier, who attempts to rescue Natalia from her husband. This unleashes a montage of chaos—some facial mutilation, a well-painted donkey, a psychotic clown shooting up a local restaurant. A powerful feeling of loathing emanates from these peculiar circumstances.
The film has some of the surprisingly familiar appeals of the work of Guillermo del Toro that features a melancholic darkness, beautifully shot and choreographed—like a sad Greek tragedy. The film also has a sick-comedic twist and one can only admire the director’s attention to detail and boldness—Iglesia took risks, and was successful.
A surreal viewing experience, The Last Circus is an attractive, sexy, and violent romance, and in between all the spun sugar and candied apples, it is also a mesmerizing tragedy sadly reflective of the lives of these circus misfits who, in the end, truly need each other.