Friday, April 8, 2011

DIFF Review THE LAST CIRCUS - He Said/She Said

Directed by: Alex De La Iglesia 
Written by: Alex De La Iglesia
Starring: Carlos Areces, Carolina Bang, and Antonio De La Torre

Jonesy: I thought it looked very pretty with really great production values.  Everything looks authentic with part of the story taking place in 1930’s Spain and the other half taking place in the 1970’s.  I enjoyed the first 30 minutes, but then I ended up not liking it and checked out of it mentally with probably an hour to go. 

Javi: This is probably one of the best-looking Spanish movies I’ve ever seen.  I don’t blame someone for not liking this movie, but at the same time I enjoyed the crap out of it.  Even when it got just beyond insane, I was so into it. I think this just fed into my most weird and dark aspects of my personality.

Jonesy: You hit the nail on the head; it’s a very specific movie for certain people.

Javi: So what did you think of the characters?

Jonesy: Well I liked all three of the main characters like Javier…

Javi: I Know!! Why did he have to be chubby :0(?  It’s weird because he looks like fat Jared Lento when he plays John Lennon’s killer.

Jonesy: I thought the 3 main ones, Javier, Natalia, and Sergio, were fantastic.  They gave you enough pieces of their life that you could put together and create their own motives.  They all fit into a specific character niche we’ve seen before.  And then when Javier joins a circus troupe, all the members are all very memorable; they weren’t just background faces.

Javi: I had a good feeling that Natalia, was just supposed to play a truly messed up Manic Pixie Dream Girl type. She was the best thing about this film because you could believe that this girl was downright messed up enough to think and put up with what she did.  In terms of the circus people, I think they fulfilled the Greek Chorus role in the movie..  Funny side note under IMDB, the movie is classified as a comedy and war drama. 

Jonesy:  My big problem with this movie is the story.  In the past year of watching movies, I’ve learned if the story doesn’t engage me, it’s almost guaranteed that I won’t like it.  That’s my issue with this one.  There were so many random elements thrown in there.  The first part of the movie is set during world war II (ed.note: actually it’s the Spanish Civil War) Javier’s dad get recruited to fight in the war, then gets captured and becomes a POW working to build a huge cross.  He then tells his son to get revenge, which I thought that’s where the movie was going, but then the son grows up to be a clown like his dad and his grandfather, and then gets involved in a love triangle, and you think that’s where it’s going, and then more crazy random stuff happens. After the love triangle scenario gets established, the movie just shows random events just happening with all of these characters and events come back in the end in a very convenient and unconvincing sort of way. Just seemed very lazy.

Javi: There’s a lot of stuff that gets set up early in the movie that you just wish had a bigger pay off.

Jonesy: There’s a big 20-minute section in the middle where they reference Javier’s past.  That was just such a waste because you could very well have cut out the scene, and still have had Javier’s character be complete.  It’s almost as if someone else started writing the last half of the movie, or they were just smoking weed.

Javi: For me, the whole story makes sense, and I agree some stuff could be cut, but since it is part of this movie I still enjoyed it.  You were saying that this was crazy and weird, but not in a good way, but I’m saying that it’s crazy in a very good way because that’s what you come to expect from this movie.  This sort of insanity is set up very early in the movie. The first scene dealing with a crazy machete-wielding clown, well where do you go from there? In terms of you complaining about the crazy aspects to me makes no sense, but this was the only place where it could have gone logically. And I know that there are some points where it gets so ridiculous it’s goofy. 

Jonesy: Him eating a deer isn’t out left field??!?

Javi: Not really, mean that was the thing that grossed me out the most in terms of violence, but it makes sense. 

Jonesy: You were talking about the machete clown, it’s goofy and silly but it is better incorporated into the plot of the movie.  Where they had to fight right away and they had no time to do anything but fight. The father even had to ask the general if he could change.

Javi: And the general said that a clown with a machete would be much scarier. 

Jonesy: and that’s fine, I’m agreeing with you, it made “crazy sense”.  There’s a lot of craziness towards the end of the movie.  Then you have the fact that there is no sense of time at all.

Javi: You could make the argument of the “unreliable narrator” for Javier.  If we assume he has gone crazy then how can we really trust anything that he is experiencing? 

Jonesy: Well and then there’s when Javier and Natalia start their relationship.  I felt that their relationship got started off way too quickly, and the danger was really amplified too quickly in terms of them sneaking around. I don’t like that excuse. I would agree with you about the unreliable narrator if they had stayed with Javier throughout the whole movie, but there were a lot of scenes without him. 

Javi: I’m not sure what the rules for this type of storytelling, but I feel that with the time issue; it could be that time shrinks when we focus on Javier, and then we move away from him, time goes back to normal.  For example, there’s a point that Sergio and Natalia have another business, that should have taken at least a few weeks to get together, and it was just one scene. I will say that the final climactic confrontation has a lot of set up that is not explained very well.  It’s as if Batman got his Batcave in one day. 

Jonesy: I’m not sure where that came from.  It seemed one last attempt at creating a circus, like holding on to a dream from childhood.  Also, the title is not fitting at all. I like the Spanish title better. (The Sad Trumpet Ballad) That relates more to Javier’s journey as a sad clown than just a circus.

Javi: I feel like I need to rewatch it again, because I feel that there are lots of instances of symbolism that I’m not sure I got.

Jonesy: You know, considering that this was supposed to be a war drama, I thought that some of the craziness would really come to symbolize or be allegorical to something relating to the culture, but I don’t know enough Spanish history. 

Jonesy: In the end this is a very specific taste of movie.  I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy it because I usually like crazy films.

Javi: For me if I could gather my friends that appreciate movies, and then cut it down to people that like weird movies, then cut it down to the extreme types, then I could recommend it.  I feel like you’d have to be like ReelDistraction and ZombieFreak who understand exploitation movies and the seedier side of film.  

SIDE NOTE: So this is a conversation recorded at 2:30 AM the night we watched it. Later in the week I met a gentleman named Tom, who I chatted with after the Documentary Shorts Competition.  Apparently, we had seen a lot of the same movies, THE LAST CIRCUS being one of them.  Turns out that he was a Spanish History professor for a longtime and loved Spain. He was able to offer some insights on the movie. Turns out that the movie WAS an allegory to the Spanish Civil War, and the effect that it had culturally and psychologically speaking on the country in subsequent generations.  Seems Javier represents the aftermath and deep psychological scars of those most affected by the war.

At the time of the war, there wasa total division of ideology, between the people that supported the rebels, the Nationalists, and the Republican government. The victory of the rebels devasted and reconfigured Spain in an extreme way, with complete families and clans were wiped out in the aftermath in Francisco Franco’s regime. The artistic and philosophical way of thinking was changed to a more romantic and introscpective sense due to the harsh oppression experienced after the war.

Knowing this, the movie is more powerful and more disturbing in showing, in an allegorical way, the way that war affect us beyond just politics.  I’m pretty moved that such a war that is nowhere near as infamous as any of the World Wars has had such a deeply saddening effect on a countries psyche. 

THE LAST CIRCUS screens Friday, April 8th at 10:30 PM during the Dallas International Film Festival  


  1. Great discussion and I got a shout-out!

  2. Thanks dude, watching it a second time, I found even more allegory and symbolism. I'm importing a blu-ray if I have to.