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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

THE LAST CIRCUS -- DVD review by porfle

You don't watch Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia's THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) as much as you're propelled through it.  Frenetic, intensely melodramatic, and way off-the-wall, it's like a Jackson Pollock painting with broad splashes of humor, tragedy, beauty, and violence. 

After a cool main titles montage, we find ourselves in a circus in Spain circa 1937.  The clowns' performance is interrupted by militia pressing men into service to fight in the Spanish Civil War.  Next thing we know, there's a clown in drag wading into a platoon of National soldiers with a machete, in the midst of a spectacular battle in the streets.  Already we know that this isn't going to be your average movie.

His son, Javier, grows up to be a sad clown in a circus dominated by Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), a "happy" clown who is the children's favorite despite his savagely violent nature.  Javier (Carlos Areces) falls in love with Sergio's gorgeous acrobat girlfriend Natalia (Carolina Bang), who is fond of Javier but perversely excited by Sergio's abuse.  When the clowns finally clash, all hell breaks loose.

A visual feast, THE LAST CIRCUS takes us on a dizzying tour of baroque circuses, blazing battles, and off-kilter urban tableaux where mad clowns with machine guns terrorize the citizenry.  Javier's attack on Sergio leaves him with a face that would make the Joker wince--thus ending his career performing for children--while the increasingly psychotic Javier's gleeful self-mutilation gives him a grotesque, permanent clown face meant to strike fear as he goes on a ramapage of revenge against the world. 

Areces, a portly, plain-looking actor, deftly takes his character to this drastic stage after first appearing as a normal and deceptively meek-looking man gradually driven to violence to protect his Natalia.  After his attack on Sergio, he becomes a wild man in the forest and ends up actually biting an elderly General Franco in one of the film's most weirdly comical moments, after which he transforms himself into the homicidal clown monster. 

As Sergio, de la Torre gives a raw performance that takes on added richness once his facial disfigurement makes his character even more volatile and unpredictable.  Most exhilarating for me, however, is the statuesque Carolina Bang as Natalia.  Whether performing her circus acrobatic act, dancing in a Kojak-themed nightclub in front of a giant portrait of Telly Savalas, or making love with passionate abandon to her beastly boyfriend Sergio, she's utterly captivating.  You can't blame Javier for being obsessed with her to the point of having heated delusions in which she appears as a shimmering religious icon.

The film is technically dazzling from the direction and photography all the way to a heart-pounding score by Roque Baños.  The great SPFX include lots of well-done CGI and green screen culminating in a thrilling cliffhanger climax atop a towering monument with Javier and Sergio doing battle over their mutual love Natalia.  The sequence owes quite a bit to films such as THE CROW, BATMAN, and a few others that may come to mind while watching it, with one sweeping camera move after another producing vertigo-inducing thrills as the story builds to its peak. 

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with English and Spanish 5.1 soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English.  Extras consist of international and U.S. trailers and the featurettes "Making of The Last Circus", "Behind the Scenes Segments", and "Visual Effects."  The latter reveals an extent of green-screen usage throughout the film that I was unaware of while watching it. 

One of the most welcome surprises of my recent viewing experience, THE LAST CIRCUS is a mad rush through a thoroughly skewed adventure bursting with goodies for the eyes and the mind.  You may not like it as much as I did, but I can't imagine anyone being bored by it.

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