Exploiting a common fear of clowns, Álex de la Iglesia delivers a twisted, surreal tale of unconditional love, madness, and weirdly perverse debauchery in 'The Last Circus.' Full of symbolism and fantastical imagery, the blacker-than-black comedy is set during two specific periods of Spanish history, which makes it culturally unique to that region. But the film still has a great deal to offer fans of the grotesque and the freakishly bizarre as a passionate triangle between three circus performers erupts into complete pandemonium. Most impressive is the way in which the narrative both embraces and abandons love and madness as opposites born of the same cloth.
Javier (Carlos Areces) comes from a long line of respected circus clowns, but when he joins a traveling show as the new guy, he's tasked with the role of Sad Clown, which means being humiliated by the sadistically mean-spirited Happy Clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre). The film's prologue shows us why Javier is such a miserable lump in adulthood. It also comes with one of the craziest scenes of war in just about forever. Javier's father is forcibly recruited during the Spanish Civil War while in the middle of a performance. Dressed in full clown regalia and a woman's dress, we see him charge into battle frantically screaming and waving a machete. It's a fantastic sequence that's as shocking as it is hysterical.
Carrying the memory of his father fighting on the side which lost, Javier lacks the sort of confidence needed for making children laugh. He's fueled more by anger and disappointment in the world, admitting to Sergio upon their first meeting he'd very likely be a murderer if not a clown. As ludicrous as the comment may sound, it makes for an intriguing notion that even better sets the film's proper tone, both deeply disturbed and unorthodox. And it's what the filmmaker seems to aim for, keeping viewers on their toes. The minute we settle into a comfortable zone, thinking we know where the story will go, de la Iglesia suddenly pulls the rug from under us and takes the entire show in a different direction.
On the first day of the job, Javier is enamored with the gorgeous acrobat Natalia (Carolina Bang), who happens to be Sergio's girl. Failing to see the humor in Sergio's sick joke while at dinner, Javier quickly makes an enemy and discovers the happy clown's frighteningly violent temper, which unfortunately has Natalia on the receiving end of it. This is where the story grows increasingly wacky since Javier feels the need to rescue the dazzling beauty from her beastly captor, and the obsessive love each man has for her brings out their murderous side along, with a literal physical disfigurement. The frenzied action and mayhem then ranges from comically outlandish to the surprisingly grotesque, taking their private war from the busy streets of Spain to the Valley of the Fallen monument.
'The Last Circus' is an unusually demented and freakishly surreal ride that demands an equally bizarre sense of humor from its audience. It's fairly clear de la Iglesia doesn't expect the film to be widely accepted or loved, but the filmmakers definitely had a great deal of fun making the thing. De la Iglesia keeps the narrative moving with a high level of energy and emotion, a frantic pace of sentimentality and a fiery urgency fueled by a grandiose political allegory. For those who can get passed its eccentricity and simply laugh at the zany shenanigans, the black comedy offers plenty of fun entertainment. Others will question what the big fuss is all about. In either case, the level of shock and awe remains the same.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings 'The Last Circus' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside the standard blue case. At startup, viewers can enjoy a series of skippable trailers for upcoming Blu-ray releases from the distributor and a promo for the HDNet cable channel.
Serving its own brand of crazy is this highly-detailed and stylized AVC-encoded transfer of 'The Last Circus.'
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture is very sharply defined with lots of precise, distinct lines in nearly every frame. We can see the intricate design and stitching of Javier's mad-clown outfit, and facial complexions expose wonderful textural features in the cast, especially in close-ups. Contrast is intentionally subdued, giving the movie a somewhat downcast and gloomy appearance. Still, the video remains crisp, with spot-on whites and excellent visibility of the finer objects in the distance. Black levels are absolutely gorgeous and richly rendered with outstanding gradations in the grayscale, providing the image with appreciable depth. Shadows do little to ruin the tiny details in the several poorly-lit sequences. Colors are affected by the stylized photography to a certain extent, but they are for the most part accurate with special attention given to the primaries, making this an unusual but still fantastic video presentation.
Keeping up with the video is this equally enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Though mostly a dialogue-driven, front-heavy presentation, the design still has much to offer with lots of activity and action spreading throughout the system. Scenes taking place in and around the circus deliver the varied sounds of such shows with convincing discrete effects in the rears. When things go completely berserk, bullets, screams and explosions provide an exciting and immersive soundfield. The musical score also takes advantage of the high-rez codec, bleeding into the back flawlessly and keeping viewers engaged. The soundstage displays a very wide and expansive imaging with fluid movement between the channels and clear, intelligible vocals. Dynamic range is precise and extensive, exhibiting excellently rich detailing in the higher frequencies, while low-frequency effects are powerful and deep, giving each action sequence a great deal of presence.
Overall, it's a fun and exciting lossless mix for a twisted and bizarre black comedy.
Magnolia offers a meager but decent assortment of bonuses.
Utterly twisted and dementedly surreal, 'The Last Circus' is a weird but wickedly fun black comedy with clowns discovering their repressed murderous sides. From Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia, the film is filled with lots of cultural symbolism and history but also some dark visual imagery that immediately catches the eye. It debuts unto Blu-ray in the U.S. with a splendid picture quality that stays true to the filmmakers' intentions and an exciting audio presentation. Supplements are terribly thin and barely scratch the surface of this highly eccentric motion picture, but the overall package is acceptable for a fun and entertaining feature geared at those with a wicked sense of humor.