Carlos Areces in The Last Circus.
Photograph: Diego Lopez CalvinCarlos Areces in The Last Circus.
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The Last Circus

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

We need another Francisco Franco allegory (of which Carlos Saura's Cria Cuervos, Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth are the exported-to-the-States exemplars) like we need a hole in the head. So credit Spanish director lex de la Iglesia (The Oxford Murders) for taking that fatigue and running with it way past the tipping point. Indeed, this inventive yet exhausting tale of two circus clowns, the portly wallflower Javier (Areces) and the charismatic and abusive Sergio (De la Torre), fighting over curvaceous acrobat Natalia (Bang) toward the end of Franco's regime suggests that not only do we need holes in our heads, but we also need machetes to our limbs and hot irons to our faces.

Those are just a few of the sights you'll see as Javier and Sergio's rivalry---a none-too-subtle metaphor for the conflicting ideologies of the Spanish people---ratchets up over the course of an ultimately distended hour and 47 minutes. Realistically tense confrontations (Javier cowering in terror while Sergio violently beats and fucks Natalia) eventually give way to beyond-grotesque set pieces (a manic climax set atop the Valle de los Cados memorial) that drown the film's political satire in gorily CGI-ed sensation. But plenty of moments linger, especially a potent bite-the-hand-that-feeds episode featuring a cameo by El Generalissimo himself.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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