Once upon a time, joining the circus represented trading in mundanity for a lifetime of itinerant adventure. As Aaron Schock's documentary attests, the reality of modern big-top life isn't quite so rosy. Granted, Tino Ponce---ringmaster of the rinky-dink Circo Mexico---was simply going into the family business, as his relatives have run touring spectacles South of the Border for generations. Having inherited Pop's greatest show on earth, Tino wants to provide for his wife and four kids---who, along with Tino's brother, all perform and pitch in behind the scenes. But even Mexico's small-town audiences don't flock to see contortionists, clowns and "Globe of Death" cyclists the way they used to, and life perpetually on the road is taking its toll.
Wisely, Schock's portrait of this gypsy-like troupe doesn't fixate on how traveling circuses are virtually obsolete---that's a given---or even how the Ponce family vainly keeps this tradition alive. Instead, Circo zeroes in on the interpersonal strife within this collapsing clan---an angle that only occasionally lifts the film above confessional exotica. For every poetic silhouette or deliriously dizzying shot of an underage twirling acrobat, there are dozens of straight-to-the-camera testimonials that, insightful or not, quickly become numbingly repetitive. Humanistic pathos should trump footage of high-wire acts and hot-shot flourishes, but perhaps a complementary three-ring mix of these elements would give this family drama a deeper impact.
Watch the trailer