Bizzare. Weird. Unique. Bold. All words that could be used to describe Álex de la Iglesia’s wonderfully wacky The Last Circus. An obvious cult film right from the outset (i.e. one which is not going to find much of an audience outside of the festival circuit) it is a hell of a lot of fun if you can buy into the jet black style of humour and macabre atmosphere.
The film follows a man, Javier, who decides to become a clown in memory of his father (also a clown) who died at the hands of an evil general during the Spanish Civil War 35 years earlier. He joins a circus which contains all the bizarre acts you’d expect and soon becomes involved with Natalia who, unfortunately for Javier, is the head clown’s wife. An intense battle for her affection ensues between the two clowns.
That plot is probably the only clichéd thing about The Last Circus (that last part is particularly close to the plot for Water for Elephants). From the opening scene – which sees a clown performing to a group of children interrupted by a group of soldiers who force all the adults to fight alongside them – it’s impossible to guess which direction the film is going to go. Along with the sheer strangeness of it all the unpredictability is what makes the film so much damn enjoyable.
This is a surprisingly violent film, with more brutal brawling, machete chopping, and fatal gunshot wounds than you might expect from a film about two clowns vying for the love of a woman. It could be construed as being needlessly vicious and sadistic, but it’s all so bizarre and over-the-top that you take the violence as part of the silly fun as opposed to it causing much offence.
One of the great things about film festivals is that you can sit down to watch a film knowing next to nothing about it and be completely surprised by it. The Last Circus is most definitely one of those films. Its inherent strangeness only adds to the fun instead of being distraction, a difficult feat which Iglesia pulls off with aplomb.