Spanning virtually the full history of Franco’s Spain, the movie opens in 1937, when Nationalist officers burst into a circus tent and instantly draft, or dragoon, the circus’s star clown Andres (Enrique Villen) into the Army; desperate but determined to prove his mettle, Andres grabs a machete and hacks his way to Falangist glory. Decades later, Andres’ son Javier (Carolos Areces) has joined another circus, playing the soulful Sad Clown to the star Happy Clown, a sadistic beast named Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), who keeps the gorgeous acrobat Natalie (Carolina Bang) as an erotic toy he’d as soon smash as play with. No question that the movie is a parable, in grotesque whiteface, of the Franco period, which de la Iglesia sees as the domination of the brutal Right over the ineffectual Left. The acrobat might stand in for the Spanish people: she’s sexually abused by Happy Clown, and she has learned to love it.
But that’s not the weird part. The Last Circus is a movie whose grotesque set pieces have the viewer thinking, “It can’t get any more extreme than that,” only to find that the film has no intention of returning to reality; it’s just going to get crazier. Enraged by Sergio’s vicious dominance, Javier beats him to a pulp. The only doctor Sergio can find to stitch his wounds is a veterinarian, leaving him grotesquely disfigured; and Javier one-ups his rival by branding his Sad Clown look onto his face with hot irons. Beginning in carnage and soaring into surrealist tragicomedy atop the huge cross in Franco’s Valley of the Fallen, The Last Circus is a film hellbent on madness and in full control of it. A born clown-artist and a juggler too, de la Iglesia wears a sick smile as he keeps the balls of plot airborne and deviously mixes CGI effects into the manic melodrama [EM] a true Cirque du Freak. If you don’t love the movie, you may love hating it.
The Last Circus (2010)
Writer-director: Alex de la Iglesia
With Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, Carolina Bang
Magnolia Home Entertainment, $26.98