The Last Circus

Clown with a gun... The Last Circus
Clown with a gun... The Last Circus

Spanish title: Balada triste de trompeta
Country: Spain (90%) | France (10%)
Genre: Horror
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Produced by Yousaf Bokhari, Vérane Frédiani, Gerardo Herrero, Adrian Politowski, Franck Ribière and Gilles Waterkeyn for Tornasol Films (45%), La Fabrique 2 (10%), Castafiore Films (45%)
Story and screenplay: Álex de la Iglesia
Music: Roque Baños
Cinematographer: Kiko de la Rica
Editor: Alejandro Lázaro
Art director: Eduardo Hidalgo hijo
Cast: Carlos Areces (Javier), Antonio de la Torre (Sergio), Carolina Bang (Natalia), Manuel Tallafé (Ramiro), Alejandro Tejerías (Motorista-fantasma), Manuel Tejada (Jefe de pista), Enrique Villén (Andrés), Gracia Olayo (Sonsoles), Sancho Gracia (Coronel Salcedo), Paco Sagarzazu (Anselmo), Santiago Segura (Padre-Payaso tonto), Fernando Guillén Cuervo (Capitán miliciano), Jorge Clemente (Javier (Joven 1943)), Fofito (Payaso listo), Sasha Di Bendetto (Javier (Niño 1937)), Juan Viadas (Franco), Ángel Acero (Locutor / Actor), David Sánchez Calvo (Trapecista), Joaquín Climent (Padre de familia), Juana Cordero (Madre de los niños), Fernando Chinarro (Abuelo), Luis Varela (Manuel), Terele Pávez (Dolores (Vet.)), José Manuel Cervino (Secretario), Isidro Montalvo (Amaestrador de osos), Fran Perea (Soldado nacional), Javier Botet (Preso enloquecido), Ignasi Vidal (Policía), Raúl Arévalo (Carlos), Luz Valdenebro (Mª Ángeles – Chica Cine), Josu Ormaetxe (Millonario 1), Josean Bengoetxea (Millonario 2), Chusa Barbero (Señora enjoyada), Fernando Soto (Médico), Elsa Cabo (Bailarina en el Kojak), Merche Romero (Bailarina en el Kojak), Anita Torres (Bailarina en el Kojak), David M. Antón (Miliciano), Biaffra (Guardia civil), Mikel Bustamante (Figurante cine / Guardia civil), Diego Calderón (Trapecista Machete), Sixto Cid (Bestia), Ángel Cristo (Himself), Alexander Estrella (Soldado nacional), Torcuato Fernández Miranda (Himself (archive footage)), Manuel Fraga (Himself (archive footage)), Francisco Franco (Himself (archive footage)), Luis Lobos Negros (Cliente cafetería Loessa), Raphael ((archive footage))
Spanish takings: €2.324.277,86
Spanish spectators: 369,118
Spanish subsidies: Ayudas a la Amortización de Largometrajes – General (€840.165,88), Ayudas a la Amortización de Largometrajes – Complementaria (€840.165,88)
Budget: €7,000,000 (estimated)


The story begins in 1937, where a circus is interrupted mid-performance by a left wing militia and forced to join the battle against the fascist opposition. Among those conscripted is a clown who – still clad in his red nose, make up and over-sized shoes – proves to be surprisingly adept with a machete. He’s captured, though, and sentenced to hard labor, leaving his son Javier with both a grievance against the military authorities and ambitions to follow in his father’s oversized footsteps. Unfortunately the grown up Javier (Carlos Areces) has had such a miserable life that he’s only suitable at playing the ‘sad’ clown – the butt of all the jokes – and when so when he joins a rundown circus he is partnered with a popular ‘happy’ clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre). Sergio, however, is a monster, violent and abusive to both his new colleague and his girlfriend Natalia (Carolina Bang), who forms a close friendship with Javier as a result. This only makes Sergio all the more jealous, and everything escalates in an increasingly bizarre manner.


The Last Circus
The Last Circus

It’s a great mystery to me why Álex de la Iglesia isn’t a better known director in the English speaking world. Since 1993’s Acción mutante he’s made over a dozen films which, although they do vary in terms of quality, nevertheless make up a substantial body of work. What’s more, he’s turned his hands to wide range of subject matter – from westerns (800 Bullets) to media satires (As Luck Would Have It) to murder mysteries (The Oxford Murders) – while at the same time ensuring that his work maintains a distinct, individual character. In my mind he deserves to be considered alongside his better known peers Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro and, in fact, The Last Circus plays pretty much like an unholy mash-up of something that those two directors might have come up with working together (albeit with a dash of Alejandro Jodorowsky thrown in for good measure).

It is a film that frankly couldn’t have been made by anyone else: a crazy mix of horror, whimsy, social history, melodrama and surrealism. There are numerous inserts and background details that place it very much in the context of the times it’s set (primarily the Spanish Civil War and the early 1970s, towards the end of Franco’s reign), but it’s not really commenting on history, more using it as a crux on which to hang it’s idiosyncratic story-line. And the story-line is entirely unpredictable. It’s almost impossible to tell where things are going to go next; at first it plays a bit like a revenge film, then there are elements of seventies crime movie (the references to an otherwise largely unseen band of terrorists), a romance, then finally into a deranged version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame meets The Phantom of the Opera.

Technically it’s hugely accomplished: the initial battles scene is as impressive as anything filmed by Spielberg or Annaud, albeit with a crazed killer clown as the primary character. The pacing never lets up and visually it’s packed with interesting flourishes. The cast also do well, with Antonio de la Torre standing out and Manuel Tajeda putting in a nice supporting role as the manager of the struggling circus. It picked up a host of awards in Spain, Italy and Argentina, but didn’t even get a widespread release in the UK (although it was shown in the US, perhaps with the large Hispanic community in mind).

Rating: 9/10

Review by Matt Blake, 2017

What the critics said

“Brilliant, bizarre, dazzling and utterly demented, The Last Circus views Franco-era Spain through the crazed eyes of two clowns doing battle for the love of one magnificent woman. The metaphor may be unsubtle, but the jaw-dropping brio of its execution takes the breath away: resisting its lunatic spell would probably require full-body sedation.” Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times.

“This political slasher portraying life in Franco’s Spain as a horror movie must be one of the most hysterical films ever made about a fascist regime, and among the least pleasant pictures devised about circus life and particularly about jesters. A genre film par excellence, owing its inspiration to such sources as James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning, King Kong and Pan’s Labyrinth, to mention just a few, it may very well catch the fancy of Venice jury president Quentin Tarantino, but its grating black humor, if that’s what it is, will have a lot of trouble travelling beyond the borders of Spain.” Dan Fainaru, Screen Daily.

“Alex de la Iglesia seems to have taken the Peter Gabriel line “I want to be your sledgehammer” to heart, since little else can explain the unpleasant excess of The Last Circus. Loud, tedious and unattractive in every sense, this barrage of blood set during the Franco regime combines the helmer’s customary cartoonishness with horror and ups it a thousand notches. Presumably his two vengeful clowns are meant to be an in-your-face comment on Spain’s fascist past, but the nonstop splatter has all the insight of an ultraviolent videogame.” Jay Weissberg, Variety.


“… it is about Spain, the Church, and Franco as a kind of character. Now, there is no Franco in Spain, but yet there is still the same kind of rage against people, which leads to fighting one another all of the time. The people in my new film El Bar, which is in post-production, also shows this constant fighting between each other.” A chat with filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia, Forces of Geek.

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