The Last Circus is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
Álex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus is a wild ride from beginning to end. But what else would you expect from a film with a machete-wielding circus clown running into battle and slaughtering nationalist troops in its opening scene?
The story starts in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and immediately confronts us with the stupidity and absurdity of the conflict. Here we see a circus troupe forced to fight by the Republican Militia instead of entertaining children. As most of the plot takes place some 30 years later, the anti-war allegory quickly fades – or better yet, turns into a grotesque satire of the Francoist dictatorship – it’s narrative heavily critical of the period of Spanish history it reflects. The story follows Javier (Carlos Areces), a sad clown who joins the circus and falls in love with the trapeze artist Natalia (Carolina Bang). However, Natalia is in a toxic relationship with the troupe’s funny clown, Sergio (Antonio de la Torre).
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Iglesia’s film holds a grotesque, disturbing, yet beautiful atmosphere that pulls the audience in and doesn’t let go. This is primarily due to the superb cinematography, music and unpredictable plot, which perfectly dovetails gory horror, black comedy and a bizarre, yet tragic love story.
The Last Circus feels like a delicious mixture of Fellini, Del Toro and Jeunet in its style, with a dash of Tarantino thrown in for good measure. Yet despite this mix of styles, the result feels utterly original and undoubtedly unique. Here Iglesia not only pays homage to horror’s past but notably to specific directors and films; the most notable of these is Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, where the movie’s tragic finale echoes the iconic Mount Rushmore scene. However, there are also clear links to Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks, alongside frequent references to classic Universal horrors, including James Whale’s Frankenstein and Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera.
At first sight, this mashup of genres and visual styles might sound overbearing and excessive; however, it creates an utterly unique and enjoyable cinematic experience. Here the brilliant final shot of two clowns uncontrollably laughing and crying encapsulates the audience’s feelings at the end of a nightmarish, fever dream of a film.