BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA (The Last Circus in English, 2010)
Directed by: Alex De La Iglesia
Starring: Carlos Areces, Carolina Bang, Antonio De La Torre, Santiago Segura, Sasha Di Bendetto
Aaaaaah, Alex De La Iglesia, that mad genius from la madre patria. If any filmmaker can be associated with grindhouse-type black comedy, it’s him. The man is like a Spanish Rob Zombie circa House of 1000 Corpses, only, you know, GOOD. His films are ruthlessly profane, gritty, cruel and relentlessly funny. Balada Triste de Trompeta is no exception, but it is also De La Iglesia’s most complete and compelling film yet. It is a fractured fairytale, a tragic love story and a horrific horror flick in one deliciously disturbing package.
Our story begins in Madrid, Spain, in 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. In an unnamed circus, an unnamed clown(Santiago Segura, aka Torrente!) does his act to the absolute delight of the children in the audience. However, the laughter is short-lived, as the war reaches the circus: a squad of Republican soldiers bursts into the circus tent and forces the circus performers to join them against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist rebels. Although forced to fight in a battle he wants nothing to do with, the clown still does so fiercely, and armed with only a machete(and dressed in drag!). However, he is wounded and captured by the Nationalists. The clown’s son, Javier(Sasha Di Bendetto), visits his father in military prison, and his father tells him that if he’s going to go into the family business, he cannot be the Happy Clown like his father, since Javier’s childhood has been taken from him. He instead says his destiny is to be the Sad Clown. Javier eventually tries to break his father out of prison, but the attempt fails and his father is trampled to death by one of the soldiers’ horses. Javier is left heartbroken. Flash forward to 1973, and the grown Javier(Carlos Areces) is about to join a circus as their newest Sad Clown. Javier has never been a clown before, but his innate grasp of sadness makes him a perfect Sad Clown, remaining stoic in the face of the humiliations his character faces.
Javier’s fate, however, is to be tragically intertwined with that of two of the circus’s other performers: Natalia(Carolina Bang, yes, that’s her real name) and Sergio(Antonio De La Torre). Natalia is the beautiful(and I MEAN beautiful, she’s drop-dead gorgeous!) trapeze artist, whom Javier instantly falls in love with. Sergio is the circus’s happy clown, and a very talented one at that, being the circus’s main attraction. He is also cruel, sadistic and abusive outside of costume… and he’s also Natalia’s boyfriend. The first interaction between him and her is him beating the ever-loving shit out of her. The SECOND interaction is her waking up, licking the blood off seductively and fucking with Sergio in a public place. Yep, it’s one of THOSE relationships.
After an altercation between Javier and Sergio, Natalia develops an interest in Javier, since he’s the only one who’s actually not laughed at Sergio’s jokes. Javier is terrified of Sergio, but his infatuation for Natalia and wishes to see her safe are much stronger. Meanwhile, Natalia starts showing inner conflict between Javier’s genuine tenderness towards her and Sergio’s animal magnetism. Natalia starts teasing Javier and secretly going out with him. Sergio finds out. SHIT HITS THE FUCKING FAN.
Balada Triste de Trompeta is GRITTY. The movie is dark and gray, but explodes with color in scenes, and is beautifully shot and framed. I’ve seen some of De La Iglesia’s earlier movies, like Acción Mutante and El Día de La Bestia, and they were nowhere near as beautifully shot as this, the man has truly grown as a cinematographer. The movie also has some use of CG for some landscape shots, but it’s used ingeniously and during dark scenes, to make it as seamless as possible. Hollywood, take note. I was also VERY pleasantly surprised at the AWESOME makeup the leads get after their respective mutilations. My GOD do I ever love seeing practical effects on screen. The story is wonderfully written and paced, and has many elements of classic stories but with its own unique spin. If it resembles any story, it is Pagliacci, the classic opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo, only the roles of protagonist and antagonist are reversed: it’s the lover who’s the protagonist and the cuckolded spouse who’s the antagonist.
The performances in this film are AMAZING. Carlos Areces as Javier is sympathetic and likeable… initially. But when he goes nuts, hooooooly shit does he ever go off the deep end. It takes a good actor to convincingly play a fall into insanity, and Areces is awesome. Antonio De La Torre as Sergio is suitably terrifying. His character is not physically imposing, but he is a force of nature when in full raging asshole mode, really driving home how scary a guy can be just by having a bad attitude. He also has some moments that actually can make you sympathize with him, which is a hell of a feat. Carolina Bang… I needed a cold shower after watching this flick, because she is fucking S_E_X_Y. The woman exudes sex. She is seductive and intriguing, and has a talent to sexualize the most disgusting things. She actually made receiving a senseless beating seem like foreplay. She has probably the meatiest role in the film, since she not only needs to play a femme fatale, she also has to portray one whose antics violently backfire on her. Her character is the one that most changes during the course of the movie, and Bang delivers. The rest of the actors do great jobs in their roles, with Santiago Segura being a stand-out as Javier’s father. Segura’s already a veteran of Spanish film and black comedies in particular, but he plays a surprisingly serious and heartfelt role in this, when compared to his usually more goofy fare.
Balada Triste de Trompeta is not a feel-good movie. Of all the black comedies I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen many, this is one of the absolute darkest. However, you WILL feel damn good about seeing it, it’s a friggin’ masterpiece from start to end. The performances are great, the story is entertaining and never drags, it is gritty and darkly hilarious. A hell of a time.