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Film / The Last Circus

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It's showtime.
Sergio: "Why are you a clown?"
Javier: "What about you?"
Sergio: "Because if I weren't a clown, I'd be a murderer."
Javier: "Me too."

Original Spanish title: Balada triste de trompeta (Sad Trumpet Ballad)

A 2010 Black Comedy directed by Álex de la Iglesia. In 1937, a clown is forcibly recruited by the militia to serve in the Spanish Civil War where he manages to massacre an entire platoon with a machete. Years later in 1973 against the backdrop of Franco-era Spain, his son Javier follows in his father's footsteps, working as a Sad Clown. There he falls in love with the beautiful acrobat Natalia and in the process runs amok of her abusive lover, Sergio, the Funny Clown. A twisted love triangle ensues develops between the two clowns that escalates into insanity.

Of all of Álex de la Iglesia's films (which include such twisted and weird fare as Accion Mutante and El Dia de La Bestia), this is probably the darkest and most gritty. And that's saying something.


This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Prologue: A Republican army with forcefully recruited circus artists vs a Nationalist army.
  • Advice Backfire: Javier's father laments he can only ever hope to be a sad clown, since he's had his childhood robbed thanks to the civil war. However, he advises Javier that he can gain solace from his pain and be a funny clown if he can get revenge. The backfire comes when Javier decides to get said revenge by sabotaging a prison work camp where his father was forced to build the Valle de los Caídos monument with dynamite. Hilarity ensues.
    • Javier's father re-appears later as a hallucination, ordering him to get Natalia and kill Sergio, saying once again that revenge is the only way to happiness. And once again, following this advice backfires HORRIBLY.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Javier and Sergio at the end are sent to weep for Natalia's death and the emotional and physical turmoil they gone through as they are arrested.
  • The Alcoholic: Sergio gets worse whenever he drinks... and Natalia tells Javier that he drinks every night.
  • An Arm and a Leg: During the opening battle, Javier's father briefly sees some poor guy who lost his sight, both legs and an arm.
  • All Are Equal in Death: At Valle de los Caídos, Javier explains to Natalia that the caves are filled with the bodies of fallen fascists and communists, commenting that they all ended up in the same place because death "unites a lot".
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  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Taken to the extreme. Natalia claims constantly that she's with Sergio because she's afraid of what he'd do if she left him... but she seems to show genuine sexual excitement from the abuse.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The caustic soda Javier dips his hands and face into would've just given him severe bloody burns, instead of bleaching his skin.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • To an extent the Republican colonel Enrique Lister, who punches Miguel after being told off and forcefully conscripts Javier's father and the circusmen to fight a Francoist army only to lose miserably.
    • Sergio. He lives, but at a price.
    • Colonel Salcedo and his servant Anselmo, who get what they deserve for what they did to Javier.
    • Salcedo's friend who gets his hand bitten by Javier despite shielding him from Salcedo's abuse would be unfortunate... if it wasn't for the fact it's Generalissimo Franco himself.
  • Ax-Crazy: Javier becomes this halfway through.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The vet who patches Sergio's face back together after being mauled by Javier.
  • Bad Humor Truck: Javier drives around in an ice cream truck after becoming a Monster Clown.
  • Bastard Boyfriend: Sergio. Oh so very much.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Javier.
  • Birthday Party Goes Wrong: Sergio and Natalia entertain some kids at a birthday party. Everything falls apart when a kid pulls Sergio's fake beard revealing his horribly mutilated face.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: By the end of the film, both of the main characters are pretty deranged. Also applies to the overarching theme of the film as it relates to the Spanish Civil War; as one reviewer pointed out, "Republicans? Nationalists? What's the difference? They're both clowns."
  • Black Comedy: If it were any darker, it'd suck the light out of the room when you played it on your TV.
  • Blown Across the Room: A politician at Salcedo's villa, by the hands of an unhinged Javier. The man has only time to mutter "¿Pero qué coño es esto?" at the approaching bishop-looking Monster Clown before getting shot off his feet and slamming against a bookshelf.
  • Bookends: The movie opens and ends on two men dressed as clowns.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Javier to colonel Salcedo, and he keeps shooting until he's out of bullets.
    • Sergio to Ramiro when he reaches Javier and Natalia's hideout, commencing the movie's climax.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In-universe, when Javier goes at the theater and has a vision of Raphael addressing to him from the big screen.
  • Butt-Monkey: Javier's role as the Sad Clown falls under this, but it could easily apply to his entire life.
    • Played Straight with The Ghost Rider, who gets mocked and poorly treated by the others, but whose misery is comedic rather than serious.
  • Captive Date: Javier takes Natalia on one after he snaps.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Javier does this after waking up from his nightmare at the hospital.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The Ghost Rider's flying motorcycle stunt. Initially just his Running Gag, but then it ends in tragedy when he tries to be a hero with it.
  • Circus Brat: Javier, as well as his father, his grandad and possibly more.
  • Climbing Climax: Up on the giant cross of the Valle de los Caídos monument.
  • The Comically Serious: Ramiro praises Javier's first (offscreen) performance, going as far as to say that his passiveness to the gags Sergio subjected him to (which included Piano Drop, Pie in the Face and Rump Roast) reminded him of Buster Keaton's.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Javier, out of anyone else he could've stumbled upon in the forest, re-encounters an elder colonel Salcedo on a hunting trip, who decides to kidnap him after finding out it's the boy that took away his eye.
    • On top of the Coincidental Broadcast about Javier being sighted near the site of the terrorist attack on Blanco, in the very same pub Sergio notices the Ghost Rider having a drink. When he exits, Sergio stalks and roughly interrogates him to obtain more information on Javier's whereabouts.
  • Crapsack World: This being Franco-led Spain, it's a given.
  • Crossdressing: Played Straight with Javier's father when he's forced on the battlefield in drag, which he wore as part of his clown act, but Invoked with Javier when he's dressed as a clown: the circus' elephant mistakes him for a woman, when he gets his improvised Monster Clown costume after he snaps Anselmo asks if he dressed himself as a priest or a lady, later one of the children at the diner questions their dad why Javier is dressed as a lady before being corrected that he's a clown.
  • Cruel Elephant: The circus' elephant Princesa is implied to be this, as she hits Javier to the ground and Ramiro explains that she gets aggressive when she sees him with another woman. Later Ramiro reveals him that the jealous elephant went as far as killing his wife.
  • Cry Laughing: Sergio does this after Natalia's death, while Javier bawls desperately, thus they nail their roles as the Funny Clown and Sad Clown respectively.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ramiro has moments of it.
  • Death Glare: Sergio provides plenty.
  • Defiant to the End: Colonel Salcedo. He tries to put up a fight and has a "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner to boot.
    "Son of a bitch! You have no balls! Shoot me, you son of a bitch!"
  • Despair Event Horizon: Both Javier and Sergio go through it, badly. Sergio in particular is a very interesting example: the disfigurement of his face destroys his ability to make children laugh, which was the only thing he was good at and his one redeeming quality. This makes him bounce from the Despair Event Horizon... through the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Destructive Romance: The Movie.
  • Deuteragonist: Sergio to Javier.
  • Domestic Abuse: Sergio is this to Natalia.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Javier would rather have Natalia hate him than feel sorry for him.
  • Downer Beginning: Javier's clown dad and his circus colleagues are forced into a brutal Spanish Civil War battle which they lose, Javier's dad is imprisoned and forced to do labor camp work for Franco, and dies when Javier attempts to break him out.
  • Downer Ending
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Elder Salcedo is definitely this in his spare time, judging from the lavish collection of guns and taxidermy in his manor, and the way he plans to take down a human (Javier) next.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Sergio is introduced kicking two poor dwarfs out of his trailer and ranting that he doesn't want dwarfs in his circus because they make him sick. When the director tells him that it's not his circus and he can't talk to him like that, Sergio shuts him up by taunting "Fire me, then".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Franco disapproves the way Javier gets treated by the colonel.
  • Eye Scream: The evil colonel Salcedo is pushed off his horse by Javier when he kills the boy's father, painfully losing his right eye after falling onto a pickaxe.
  • Facial Horror: Both Javier and Sergio.
  • Fan Disservice: Some nice full-frontal nudity courtesy of Javier.
    • In-universe, the male audience members at Natalia's night club performance become quite displeased at the Ghost Rider coming on stage as a barely dressed cherub.
  • Fanservice: Natalia.
  • Fat and Skinny: Javier and Sergio are also this as clowns.
  • Fearless Infant: Invoked with a young kid who steps out of a diner's bathroom right after Javier has scared everyone out by shooting up maniacally. He then notices the child and points a weapon at him, but the child barely reacts. Javier is numbed by the fact that he failed to scare him, that he stands motionless allowing the kid's father to rush back into the diner and carry him away.
  • Femme Fatale: Natalia. There is a slight hint of self-indulgence in the way she sets Javier and Sergio against each other. It does NOT end well for her, though.
  • Filching Food for Fun: While happily running through an Amusement Park with Natalia, Javier steals some poor kid's cotton candy, right before a furious Sergio catches up to give both a Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Fish Eyes: Circus artist Andrés has them.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Invoked during the prologue with a circus lion coming out of the shadows and laying down next to a young Javier after he's left all alone in the ring.
  • From Bad to Worse: Any positive development in the story is extremely short-lived, before it continues getting worse.
  • Genre-Busting: War film, period drama, horror comedy, trippy psychological thriller with some action scenes...
  • Girls with Moustaches: A bearded lady is mistaken for a man and accidentally recruited into the small Republican army along with Javier's father. The army leader scolds the soldier who did it and has her escorted away.
  • Glasgow Grin: Sergio gets half of one after the beating he gets from Javier.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Invoked with the fourth wall-breaking imaginary Raphael and Javier's father in the theater scene. Raphael tells Javier that Natalia is a shameless person that he shouldn't care about and suggests to turn himself in, while Javier's father insists on taking her and killing Sergio.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Although both get pretty damn mutilated...
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Both Salcedo and Anselmo: we see some blood splattering the wall when Javier bashes the latter to death with a clothes iron, while we close-up on Javier's face as he shoots Salcedo.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: During Javier's self-mutilation.
  • Gut Feeling: While Sergio is getting patched up by the vet, his wife rants at the circus troupe telling them that they're all going to Hell, especially Natalia, guessing that she's responsible for all this.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: At best, Sergio shows off an impatient attitude, as he snaps at Javier during the job interview because he doesn't give an immediate response to a question he asked. At worst, all it takes for Sergio to consider his dinner ruined (and, shorty after, beat up Natalia) is someone not laughing at his joke.
  • Harmful Healing: The emergency surgery performed by a vet to save Sergio after his face was brutally bashed by Javier, the rescue is successful... Sergio's facial reconstruction is most definitely NOT.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Franco himself makes an appearance. And gets bitten by Javier once he goes mad.
    • The terrorist attack that killed Luis Carrero Blanco is used as Plot Device that allows Javier to get Natalia.
  • Humiliation Conga: After getting disfigured by Javier, Sergio's career as a clown is completely shattered, and everyone is repulsed by his appearance. Even when he briefly reunites with Natalia everything falls apart again as soon as children get a good look at his face. Natalia gets fed up with him and dumps Sergio leaving him in tears. Though, unlike most Humiliation Congas, this does nothing but crank his dark side Up to Eleven.
  • Hypocrite: Sergio scolding and threatening Javier for almost getting an infant hurt by throwing them over the elephant, despite the fact Javier was against doing it but Sergio insisted.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Subverted. The only times both Javier and Sergio score a kill is when their target is right in front of them, for the rest it's all A-Team Firing during the climax. Justified, as neither of them are seasoned gun users and their madness-induced rage doesn't help them aim better.
  • Improvised Weapon: Javier destroys Sergio's face by bashing him with a trumpet, and uses a clothes iron to kill Anselmo.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: What Sergio and Natalia's relationship revolves around. Natalia claims she's afraid of Sergio... but every time she gets beaten by him, she gets really, REALLY horny.
  • It's All About Me: Sergio's first true display of instability comes from the dinner scene in which he gets really upset when Javier doesn't laugh or react the way he wanted at a Gallows Humor joke he told, and beats Natalia in front of everyone when she sides with Javier. Sergio then makes an angry rant to Javier and the other circus workers telling them that he's THE clown of the circus, the real breadwinner since people come to see him and thus he decides what's funny or not. The worst part is that he's not completely wrong since the circus closes after he gets disfigured, but his behavior still makes him an ass.
  • Jumped at the Call: Javier has a vision of Natalia as the Virgin Mary, telling him to become her Angel of Death. Which means vengeful Monster Clown.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Sergio is taunted by a group of small children after being disfigured.
  • The Last Title: The English title.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: An elder colonel Salcedo kidnaps Javier and humiliates him for what he did to his eye, then plans to kill him for biting Francisco Franco's hand. Too bad it backfires when Javier breaks out on a killing spree after becoming a Monster Clown and finishes what he started with Salcedo's eye.
  • Laughing Mad: Javier, after killing Salcedo.
  • Lawful Pushover: The circus director (and the whole troupe, honestly) is this with Sergio. They have no choice but to let him do as he pleases and bail him out of prison because he's the main star of the circus and they can't do without him. Which is proven correct after Javier disfigures him.
  • Lost in Translation: Due to other countries changing the movie's title, the original Title Drop with Raphael's song "Balada Triste de Trompeta" in the diner and the theater scene is lost.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Or crazy, at least.
  • Machete Mayhem: Javier's father during the opening battle.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: See Fan Disservice.
  • Missing Mom: Javier's. His father laments that he never got to meet her.
  • Moment Killer: Sergio is this to Javier and Natalia twice. The first when he attacks them at the amusement park, the last one after they exchange a Big Damn Kiss and he snarks in while holding Ramiro at gunpoint.
  • Monster Clown:
    • A heroic case with Javier's father during the opening battle scene, who is asked to keep his costume and makeup on in order to scare the Francoists when he'll charge at them armed with a machete.
    • Both protagonists to a degree, although in Javier's case it's more physical, since he's more broken than bad inside. Sergio is full-blown Monster Clown, though.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film is all over the place.
  • Morality Pet: Natalia serves as this for both clowns. Ironic, considering she's singlehandedly ended up manipulating both into becoming murderous on her behalf. Sergio also shows genuine affection for kids, pretty much his only redeeming quality.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the theater scene, a guy is bothered by Javier standing in front of the screen. Against his date's suggestion, the guy angrily reaches out to Javier to ask him to sit down and touches his shoulder. Javier responds by bending the guy's fingers backwards, causing panic to break out in the theater.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: A VERY nasty wake-up call for Natalia, when she sees the insane physical and emotional damage she caused by inciting Javier and Sergio to go at each other.
  • The Neidermeyer: Both Nationalist and Republican characters are portrayed as this.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Sergio, lovable clown adored by kids on stage, an abusive lover towards Natalia and a Bad Boss towards Javier off-stage.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Had Javier not caused the labor camp escape, he would've had his father living longer and possibly being released, and without a pissed off Francoist colonel seeking revenge for his missing eye.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Javier has a tormented one in which Sergio (in clown getup, no less) constantly spoils anything nice in the creepiest ways; first by popping out from under a bed where Natalia was laying, then by replacing the idyllic sight of Natalia in the sky with himself slitting the throat of Javier's father.
  • No Name Given: Javier's father and the circus director.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Sergio is prone to subject people to these if they get on his nerves. After doing it with Javier, however, he gets one from him ending up disfigured and weakened.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Miguel, the colleague of Javier's father, stands up to the Republican commando leader who broke into the circus to recruit men into his army, calling him out for interrupting the show and doing this in front of children.
  • Not So Different: Natalia makes this point when the circus director criticizes her relationship with Sergio, and she asks him if he ever felt trapped into a love that he knows will be his downfall but he just can't do without it, to which he responds "Yes, every day: this circus will end up killing me".
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Natalia tells Javier that he DOESN'T want to know what happened to the previous Sad Clown before him...
  • Ocular Gushers: In the opening scene, Javier's father wears a device to create that effect as part of the clown act. Later, after being captured, he uses it to spitefully squirt water in Salcedo's face.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Javier being saved from a wild boar by colonel Salcedo's servant, who happened to be hunting nearby. Salcedo recognizes Javier as the boy who partially blinded him (due to Javier carrying a portrait necklace of his father) and proceeds to kidnap him and force him to act like a retriever dog.
  • Pet the Dog: Sergio seems to genuinely like kids, even if he disregards their safety.
  • Portrayed by Different Species: In-universe, when Ramiro gives Javier a tour and points out that the circus' zebra is actually a donkey with a painted coat.
  • Rabid Cop: Towards the climax at Valle de los Caídos, an officer snaps at Sergio upon seeing him putting clown makeup on, giving him a heated "The Reason You Suck" Speech against circus artists. In his rage the officer doesn't notice Sergio snatching his gun for himself.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Despite ornamenting himself with guns and ammo, Monster Clown Javier uses them to shoot things up and points loaded guns at people to scare them.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Natalia. Finally admitting her love for Javier is what leads to her demise.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The entire film is a metaphor for Franco-era Spain as well as the Spanish Civil War.
  • Sad Clown: Javier's whole shtick.
  • Screaming Warrior: During the opening battle scene, Javier's dad lets out a furious shriek at the Francoist army before going Jason Voorhees on their asses.
  • Second-Face Smoke: Sergio does this to the circus director during his introductory moment.
  • Skyward Scream: Francisco Franco's, when Javier bites his hand.
  • The Straight Man: Javier to Sergio's funny clown antics.
  • Shipper on Deck: Ramiro is a downplayed example, as he's the first who notices Javier's crush on Natalia and warns him, but later says yes in Javier's place when Natalia asks him out on a date. Towards the end Ramiro is assisting Javier for his Captive Date with Natalia, although he's probably being held hostage too.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: No one accomplishes anything in the end. The film ends with both clowns arrested, and Natalia and the Ghost Rider's final stunts end in their own demises.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The movie is similar in plot and theme to Pagliacci. A very twisted and horrifying version of Pagliacci. However, the roles of protagonist and antagonist are reversed: it is the lover who is the protagonist and the cuckolded spouse who is the antagonist.
    • Plenty pop culture photos in the opening credits sequence, from the Universal Monsters to the Flash Gordon serials.
    • One of the circus artists is a stunt performer with a motorbike, who wears an outfit with a fire motif and is referred to as the "Motorista Fantasma".
    • At one point during Javier's dream sequence he tries to reach Natalia as she floats in a sunny, paradisiacal sky, which is very reminiscent of Sam Lowry's recurring dreams about Jill in Brazil.
    • Javier living in the forest without any clothing and eating a deer that fell in his hideout could be a nod to An American Werewolf in London, in which the protagonist has a dream where he sees himself running in a forest naked and preying on a deer.
    • The movie Javier sees at the theater with Raphael as the clown singing "Balada Triste de Trompeta" is 1970 Sin un adiós.
    • Two men who "created" one and other and want each other dead facing off at the top of a religious building with the woman they both desire is visually and thematically similar to the climax of Batman (1989), but with a tragic outcome.
      • The aforementioned caustic soda that bleaches Javier's skin instead of burning him could be a deliberate nod to the chemicals The Joker usually falls into in order to gain his Monster Clown appearance.
    • Word of God is that the ending, in which Natalia falls from a great height and snaps her back was a reference to a certain classic Spider-Man comic.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Of Natalia's spine.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: In the middle, maaaaaybe inching a little towards horror.
  • Swapped Roles: As clowns, Sergio is the "Funny" one and Javier is the "Sad" one. When they become Monster Clowns, Javier constantly giggles and smiles in a deranged way, while Sergio doesn't, displaying instead an unsettling Tranquil Fury and designs his clown makeup after Emmett Kelly's "Weary Willie", which is a Sad Clown figure. After Natalia dies, Javier and Sergio seem to reprise their original roles, with Javier bawling his eyes out and Sergio laughing bitterly through the tears.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Two other actors are used to portray Javier as a child and as a teenager.
  • Time Skip: Two, actually. The movie's intro opens in 1937, then it cuts ahead presumably to the late '40s and Javier is teenaged, then it jumps forward to 1973, when the rest of the film is set.
  • Titled After the Song: The original title "Balada Triste de Trompeta", Raphael's take on Nini Rosso's "Ballata Della Tromba".
  • Trauma Conga Line: Javier goes on another date with Natalia, gets hospitalized by Sergio when he finds out, is pushed to the limit by Natalia constantly going back with Sergio resulting in him disfiguring Sergio and running away from the police, being forced to live in a forest butt-naked feeding on dead animals until he gets attacked by a boar, which leads to him getting kidnapped and humiliated by the colonel who killed his father. Can you blame him for snapping into a murderous Monster Clown after all this?
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: The abusive Sergio can qualify.
  • Walking Armory: In addition of Monster Clown, Javier also becomes this by raiding Salcedo's weaponry.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Javier's reaction upon Natalia telling him that she's going back with Sergio, despite the fact that he just hospitalized him and beat her again. This sets up Javier's Rage Breaking Point when he escapes from the hospital and returns to the circus only to find Natalia having anal sex with Sergio. Cue to disfigurement.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Javier, after he snaps.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Javier roughly pushes a child away at a diner to get to the jukebox and later points his gun at another. Nothing happens, though.
  • Villain Protagonist: Javier and Sergio when they both fall off the deep end. Though Sergio was this to begin with before going full-blown Monster Clown.
  • You Just Told Me: Happens when Sergio interrogates the Ghost Rider as to the whereabouts of Javier.
  • You Killed My Father: Javier towards colonel Salcedo, who made his horse stomp Javier's father to death during the botched escape.


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