Having seen his P.O.W. father murdered during an escape attempt decades before, Javier (Carlos Areces, who looks like '70s TV staple Ray Buktineca with oversized glasses) joins a circus in 1973 Madrid to follow his family destiny as a clown. Because he was denied a proper childhood, Javier follows his dads wishes and becomes a sad clown.
True to his role, he has little to be happy about, until he falls for the circus' gorgeous acrobat, Natalia (Carolina Bang), who also falls for him for his kindness. Too bad she's married, to the abusive Sergio (Antonio de la Torre, "Volver"), who is also the big top's happy clown.
Without revealing spoilers, the film takes a wicked midway twist in which de la Iglesia upends his characters, turning them into people they were not, and the ride Javier in particular takes is deliciously wild. By the end, it's like we're watching Frankenstein's monster square off against the Phantom of the Opera, and it's all for blood-spurting laughs. Needless to say, "Circus" is a comedy that is muy negro.
Therefore, it's not for everyone. The squeamish and those who like their stories as if shaped by a cookie cutter may be baffled by the prologue. But for the adventurous, especially viewers who willingly seek to go beyond the boundaries of these United States, de la Iglesia is all to happy to push the boundaries of taste for your demented, disturbing enjoyment.
That the sharp, colorful film is one reel too long is mitigated by the presence of Bang, photographed as if she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. She just may be.
Don't miss the baby joke, not to mention the dance number amid a floor-to-ceiling visage of Telly Savalas as Kojak. Rod Lott