“Your lot is to be the sad clown”
This is a movie I first heard about through a friend of mine at Horror Express. I watched the trailer & then tracked down the movie. I was expecting a circus based horror movie, what I got was surprisingly deep movie that was part psychological horror, part black comedy, part melodrama & part political statement. The Last Circus or Sad Trumpet Ballad to give the movie’s title its literal translation is a wonderfully complex & multilayered movie.
The movie begins in Spain in 1937. A group of rebel soldiers interrupt a circus performance, forcing the circus performers including the clown to join them in fighting the loyalist troops. The clown, armed only with a machete slaughters dozens of soldiers before being shot & captured. The clown is sentenced to hard labour in a quarry. It is here that his son Javier tries to rescue him. He sets off some dynamite but during the escape his father is trampled to death by Coronel Salcedo’s horse. The young Javier knocks Salcedo from his horse, gouging out one of his eyes in the process, Salcedo vows revenge on Javier. The film moves forward to 1973 as the now middle-aged Javier joins a circus as the sad clown. His boss & counterpart funny clown is Sergio, a violent, arrogant drunk. Javier also meets Sergio’s girlfriend Natalia the trapeze artist. Javier is powerless to help himself from falling in love with Natalia. Natalia herself is drawn to Javier but admits to him that she is attracted to Sergio’s violent nature. Javier’s mental state begins to decline & triggers an event that will change all three of their lives for ever.
The preceding synopsis barely scratches the surface of the movie’s plot. But to go into any further detail would be giving away to much of the story. I was lucky in the respect I viewed the movie knowing very little about it. Director Alex de la Iglesia has crafted a genuinely powerful movie that is a remarkable achievement in storytelling. The cast is superb. Carlos Areces is wonderful has Javier, his performance of a man tortured by demons of the past & whose mental state slowly unravels is excellent. Antonio de la Torre’s performance as the brutish Sergio is note perfect. He manages to portray a man who despite being capable of horrific acts of violence towards Natalia is also deeply in love with her. As for Natalia, the performance of Carolina Bang is outstanding & wonderfully emotive as the woman caught between two men & powerless to stop what is done in her name. I must also point out from an unashamedly male point of view that Miss Bang is utterly gorgeous & it is no wonder these two men fell in love with her. To simply look at the movie as a twisted love triangle would be to only see a part of the movie. There is a lot of political commentary in the movie. I must admit to knowing little of Franco Spanish history but the director certainly wanted to make his point. There is quite a lot of CGI in the movie, some effective, some not. The movie also moves a sedate pace & if I was to level any criticism at the move it would be that the middle of the film slows down to a crawl & could have done with some editing. The movies finale is a stunning piece of cinema on an epic scale. Visually stunning & at the movie’s conclusion it literally had my jaw drop to the floor. One of the most stunningly powerful endings ever committed to celluloid.
This isn’t a film for everyone. It rewards the conscientious viewer. If you want to relax with a lightweight movie this is not for you. If you give the film the attention it deserves you will be rewarded with a wonderfully complex & beautifully dark movie. Highly recommended.