Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta) (2010)

Starring: Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, Carolina Bang, Manuel Tallafé

Directed by: Álex de la Iglesia

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Carlos Areces as Javier in The Last Circus

I loved Álex de la Iglesia mind-messing ghost story The Baby's Room, so was seriously excited over the prospect of seeing his latest opus at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't what I got. But then again, nobody expects the Spanish psychedelic sociopathic killer clowns: roll up, roll up for the most bizarre show in town...

The begins in 1937, with shades of Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, during the Spanish civil war. A circus troupe are pressganged into fighting for the Republican army, only to be captured and imprisoned by Franco's forces. Amongst them is a clown, who leaves behind a small, bewildered son, Javier, who must to watch his father grow increasingly bitter through years of incarceration and forced labour. As he matures into his teens, one word echoes round his brain: revenge – his father's last plea.

Antonio de la Torre as Sergio in The Last Circus

Fastforward to 1973 and Javier (Carlos Areces) has just found a job as a Sad Clown at a glitzily run down circus. Plump and nervous, he immediate becomes a target for the resident bully, alcoholic head clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre). Sergio is your typical Spanish cinema male, hot blooded, violent, chauvinistic and dangerous, yet inexplicably attractive to the opposite sex. Bad news for Javier, then, that he falls for Sergio's girlfriend, the gorgeous, flighty, flirty acrobat Natalia (Carolina Bang), Trouble with a capital T.

And so the stage is set for, well, total mayhem really. Simply wind up our cast of dysfunctional, haunted, aggressive, yet, often, strangely likeable characters and watch them go...

The Last Circus (or, to translate the title directly, The Sad Ballad of the Trumpet) is an extraordinary film. Bold, brutal, visually stunning and utterly unpredictable, one minute it'll have you in stitches, the next the smile will be wiped from your face with a moment of shocking, visceral violence. It's also one of the most deranged pieces of cinema I've ever seen, like something Fellini. Todd Browning and Alan Moore would dream off whilst off their heids on hallucinogenic drugs.

As such, it doesn't really make a lot of sense, and the archetypal concepts with which it wrestles (love, revenge, the sins of the father, what comes around goes around and so on) all get a bit lost in the mix. But what a mix! A stunningly audacious, big-budget-gone-bonkers movie that has to be seen to be believed. In fact, scratch that, that just has to be seen. Keep your arms in and take the ride...

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