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1937, Spain is in the midst of the brutal Spanish Civil War. A "Happy" circus clown is interrupted mid-performance and forcibly recruited by a militia. Still in his costume, he is handed a machete and led into battle against National soldiers, where he single handedly massacres an entire platoon. Fast forward to 1973, the tail end of the Franco regime. Javier, the son of the clown, dreams of following in his father's career footsteps, but has seen too much tragedy in his life-he's simply not funny and is only equipped to play the role of the Sad Clown. He finds work in a circus where he befriends an outlandish cast of characters, but as the Sad Clown he must take the abuse of the brutish Happy Clown Sergio, who humiliates Javier daily in the name of entertainment. It is here that he meets Natalia, a gorgeous acrobat, and abused wife of Sergio. Javier falls deeply in love with Natalia and tries to rescue her from her cruel and violent husband, unleashing Sergio's jealousy. But Natalia ... Written by
When Andres is arrested, he says "maderos" to the policemen, but this word was not yet used at this time. He shoould have said "grises" (grey) because this is the color of the police uniform - only years later would it become brown. ("Madero" is log or piece of wood, which is why people called policemen "maderos"). See more »
"Balada triste de trompeta" (Sad trumpet ballad, in Spanish -I have no idea why they translated it as "The last circus", as it's much poorer) is none short of a masterpiece, in my opinion. It is also a 100% Spanish film, meaning it is a tragicomedy, a totally Spanish genre and it also expands between two crucial moments of Spain's recent history, full of tragic events -the Civil War, the killings, Franco's repression and dictatorship- but also full of grotesque details, situations and characters that were real and now, in retrospect, feel utterly ridiculous, much more so than they were at the time -e.g. when the dictator went hunting, they really prepared the prey for him so that he would look as a great hunter- or are just seen as a byproduct of the times that Spain had to live. Director Alex de la Iglesia also cares to sprinkle the movie with historical events that are apparently disconnected to the main story -like the assassination of Franco's hard man and presumed heir as the new tyrant, admiral Carrero Blanco- but which I believe serve a function to the main metaphor that this movie is.
The movie starts in 1937, in the heat of the Spanish Civil War. A clown is recruited by force to fight with the Republican side, and manages to slaughter quite a lot of Franco's men. His young son, Javier, is traumatized by the whole event and later, in 1973, we meet him again as the new recruit in a circus, the Sad Clown. He can only be the sad clown because he is sad himself, and cannot make children laugh. They pair him up with the Funny Clown, a ruthless but charismatic man called Sergio, who turns out to be the partner to a beautiful trapeze artist, Natalia. Javi falls in love with Natalia and thus starts a rivalry between the two men for the love of a woman, with unforeseeable consequences.
The narration is so filled with colorful characters, crazy comedy, crazy violence mixed with comedy or with surreal elements, historical references, and an underlying sense of tragicomedy, and it is so excessive and full of surprises, one can't help but keep watching, much as it is over the top in many an occasion. You can enjoy the movie at face value and ride the wave of the story for what it is, but you can also watch this movie as a summary and insight into the recent Spanish history and how Spain seems doomed to always be split in two, similar people, brothers, always rivalling and even hating each other, seemingly beyond reconciliation, connecting episodes of sheer senselessness and absurdity with spine-chilling episodes of hate and violence, and all of it boiling down to a tragedy that you can only laugh at because it makes no sense.
I'm not surprised that Quentin Tarantino himself was so taken with this movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if an adaptation of this movie was made soon in an American context.
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