Re:View - 'The Last Circus'

Christopher Fowler
Actually titled 'The Ballad Of The Sad Trumpet', this is director Alex de la Iglesias at his most bombastic and bizarre. This story of a clown's son who follows his father's footsteps, taking revenge for the old man until he goes insane, is so extreme that it is impossible to tell what might happen from one minute to the next. It was described on one site as 'the best portrayal of the Spanish Civil War told from the point of view of mentally unstable clowns ever.' The sad-faced clown and his vicious enemy fight over a beautiful rope dancer, and in the process cause her death. As a non-Spaniard I struggled to find meaning in this at first, until it became clear that it's a satire on Franco's rule, with the hero representing the gentle but ineffectual liberals, the cruel clown acting as the Fascists and the girl portraying Spain herself, lost in the protracted process of the battle. Which admittedly makes it sound less watchable than it is. 'Circus' is an 'Arturo Ui'-style 20th century history lesson played out in the theatre of the absurd, and there are a number of astonishing scenes that make it a worthwhile view, not the least of which is the climactic battle for the soul of Spain, which takes place, appropriately, in the Valley of the Fallen, Franco's monstrous monument to himself. A few years ago I went to his tomb (not a popular tourist destination for obvious reasons), with its immense cross plunging down through the vaulted mountain - it's a surreal experience, but not as surreal as watching the dancer leap from its pinnacle wrapped in an immense bolt of red silk. Along the way to her death we have daredevils, lions, a boar attack, clown fights and a branding with acid and an electric iron. It's the kind of film Europeans occasionally make, born from an explosion of righteous anger - except that as the regime fades into the past it seems a little late now. As an allegory it's a fascinating, colourful and savage comedy that has still managed to caused outrage in Spain. As a story, its dense, Fellini-esque funfair ride that probably won't be remade with Jennifer Aniston. The Citizen Kane of disfigured clown movies.
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The Arts


Roger (not verified) Mon, 21/11/2011 - 08:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Two veraions of Franco's death:

As the priest gave Franco the last rites he asked: 'Do you forgive your enemies?'
'I have no enemies. I've had them all shot.'

As the cabinet gathered round Franco's death bed they could hear the crowds outside.
'What is that noise?' said Franco.
'It is the people, General.'
'What are they doing?'
'They are saying goodbye, General.'
'Where are they going? Who said they could go?'

J. Folgard (not verified) Mon, 21/11/2011 - 17:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've really enjoyed De la Iglesia's previous outings, and this review makes me want to check it out even more. I appreciate the allegorical angle you spotlight here, as its presence would have been a bit puzzling for me. Cheers-!