Monday, February 21, 2011

Portland International Film Festival preview day 14 pt.2: THE LAST CIRCUS

Álex de la Iglesia isn't likely to become a household name anytime soon.  Embraced by a certain type of film nerd, the director of 800 Bullets and La Comunidad tends to push the envelope when it comes to blending representations of violence, humor and sex in darkly unhinged ways, resulting in a concoction of pure crazy that resembles the work of pretty much no one else.  My personal favorite film by him, El Crimen Perfecto, ratchets up a fairly standard take on workplace competition to murderous and (possibly) demonic heights, disregarding all notions of taste or decency.

The Last Circus travels the same path as most of de la Iglesia's best work.  Basically, this means that the legibility of the plot is sometimes obscured by the action unleashed on the screen.  For a good deal of the run time, it hardly matters, since the sheer audacity on display substitutes quite nicely for more fleshed out characters and motivations.  At the same time, the tale of two killer circus clowns battling it out in post-Franco Spain for the love (or is it the hate?) of another circus performer doesn't really need to be strongly grounded in the real to play well with audiences accustomed to cult cinema.

Honestly, I'm surprised that this one didn't get picked up for the late night PIFF After Dark programming, as it would probably click best with the same audience that showed up for Friday night's screening of Rubber.  I enjoyed The Last Circus quite a bit while still acknowledging its weaknesses (a muddled third act drowned in endless and, eventually, numbing madcap action, for instance).

I almost feel like this sort of film needs a disclaimer for the uninitiated, indicating that its concerns are tied more into b-movie aesthetics than the average festival film.  To take it too seriously would be a mistake, drastically reducing one's chances at enjoying what actually does works about the movie.
To quote a friend after the press screening: that was a complete mess.  My take: yeah, it's a mess.  A beautiful, enthralling mess.

The Last Circus plays at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 25th at 8:45pm.  An additional screening is scheduled at the Broadway Theater on Feb. 26th at 5:15pm.

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