LAST CIRCUS, THE (BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA)(director/writer: Álex de la Iglesia; cinematographer: Kiko de la Rica; editor: Alejandro Lázaro; music: Roque Baños; cast: Antonio de la Torre (Sergio), Carlos Areces (Javier), Carolina Bang (Natalia), Santiago Segura (Father of the Stupid Clown), Fran Perea (National Soldier), Sancho Gracia (Colonel Salcedo), Enrique Villén (Andres), Gracia Olayo (Sonsoles), Paco Sagarzazu (Anselmo), Juan Viadas (Franco), Jorge Clemente(Javier as a child); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Vérane Frédiani/Gerardo Herrero/Franck Ribière; Magnet Releasing; 2010-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“Unhinged black comedy that serves, for better or worse, as a heavy-handed allegory of Franco’s Spain.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cult writer-director Álex de la Iglesia (“800 Hundred Bullets”/” The Oxford Murders“/”The Day of the Beast”)films this unhinged black comedy that serves, for better or worse, as a heavy-handed allegory of Franco’s Spain. The unpleasant gory political flick is filled with excesses and surreal moments, that tip over from reaching too far over the edge. It’s a demented film that aims to shock with grotesque situations and characters. It serves as a companion piece to Guillermo del Toro’s much superior Pan Labyrinth.

The pic opens in Madrid, 1937, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. In the middle of a circus performance for children, the troupe is forced by a Republican army commander to join his forces in fighting the nationalist army. The ‘Happy’ Clown (Santiago Segura) goes into battle, still in costume, armed with a machete provided by his bloodthirsty captors, and his rag-tag outfit of Republican army members slaughter the equally bloodthirsty regular army regiment. In 1943 the clown’s nerdy young son Javier (Jorge Clemente) sees his prisoner father before he’s executed by the ruthless Colonel Salcedo (Sancho Gracia), and dad tells him that his childhood has passed him by and that fate dictates you become the Sad Clown and seek revenge on those who stole your childhood.

Cut to 1973, Madrid, and the portly Javier (Carlos Areces), the same son of the executed Happy Clown, joins a struggling traveling circus as the Sad Clown and is teamed with the violent psychopathic Happy Clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), who is the star attraction and runs the circus and has an abusive relationship with the attractive lip-licking lustful acrobat Natalia (Carolina Bang). They become rivals for the girl and cease becoming real character, as they instead become symbols. A masochistic Natalia represents Spain, Sergio is a stand-in for Franco’s violent means of control and Javier represents the decent folks who have lost their humanity because they are corrupted by the war. In their fight for Spain, both clowns become badly disfigured by hot irons and an unhealthy Spain tragically suffers because of all the violence, asSergio and Javier meet for a CGI operatic climax duel above the Valley of the Fallen to see who will come away with the spoils of war.

The film is weird and its ideas are trite and unsubtle, as its political satire builds into one bloody mess. It’s an awkward film about love for country tainted with depravity and therefore we’re led to believe no one is able to endure without loss in such a climate of madness, where to exist means acting insane.