Directed by renowned surrealist Alex de la Iglesia, The Last Circus throws us straight into the action when a circus performance in Madrid is interrupted by the sound of gunfire and explosives. All the men in the audience are pulled out and forced to fight, this includes the performers, notably one of the shows bedraggled clowns who despite his opposition is thrust into this bloody conflict against general Franco’s advancing armies. The carnage which ensues would be enough to titillate even the most extreme cinema fan’s but throw in a clown dressed in drag, wielding a machete, and the excitement scale burst uncontrollably under the weight of its own absurdity.
The bulk of the film plays out 36 years later as we follow this heroic clown’s son, Javier, also a circus entertainer (following in his father’s footsteps but interestingly choosing the role of the ‘sad’ clown due to his miserable childhood and tarnished soul affecting his ability to affectively convey inner joy). He soon becomes obsessed with his stage partners tantalisingly beautiful wife and as to be expected relationships begin to fray affecting not just this unconventional love triangle but everyone involved in this touring sideshow. What eventually unravels is a series of gruesome and profane events that spiral this professional rivalry into madness, far transcending the farcical roles of their stage characters and to the point of no return.
This gorgeously presented, glorified B-movie is a film which seems to have divided audiences and critics so far. On one hand its beautifully maddening story has pushed some to the limits of what they find enjoyable whilst others have positively revelled in it, transfixed by its visual assault which strikes you with the magnitude of a thousand cream pies to the face.
All the classic conventions of revenge and romance stories are dismissed in this gothic nightmare. Instead The Last Circus strips down the emotional devastation that loss and infatuation can create to its mentally unstable core. Once the stage is set, it leaves us with nothing left but the madness love can create and without a second thought, amplifies it well past a socially acceptable level, into a realm of cinematic entertainment that far surpasses the simplistically generic ‘midnight movie’ tag some have labelled it with.
As you can probably imagine The Last Circus, through its own choice of bizarre storytelling and gratuitous violence is a movie which will alienate many but if you’re looking to push the boundaries of what a film can be and suspend your disbelief entirely then perhaps you’ll fall in love with this beautifully crafted piece of cultural trash to nearly the same crazed level of obsession that its central protagonists reach.
The Last Circus is a unique and unforgettable film which shatters genre conventions whilst creating both a visually stunning study of Franco’s Spain and, more importantly, an elaborate yet insanely enjoyable piece of entertainment.