- Running time:
- 75 minutes
- Aaron Schock
- Official Movie Web Site:
- Overall User Rating:
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For the Ponce clan, joining the family business is a birthright and a duty, but the office is under a big top, and the job hazards include aerial tricks of derring-do. Since the 19th century, the Ponces have been a traveling circus, winding through Mexico's rural towns while carting a rickety entourage of animals and dilapidated equipment. As family loyalist Tino carries on the tradition, he walks a tightrope, struggling to keep the circus going in the face of rising debt, a sinking economy and his wife's growing concerns about the future of their uneducated and uprooted children.
The buzz: Circus movies are having a moment this season: In late April, the Depression-era circus drama "Water for Elephants," starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, hits theaters. Consider "Circo" a sobering preamble.
The verdict: Rookie director Aaron Schock layers his exquisite documentary with quiet melancholy, following Tino as he desperately tries to play ringmaster to both his circus and his family. There's no distinction between the two, really, and we glimpse the consuming demands of their gypsy-like lifestyle: Personal relationships outside the troupe are nil, the kids' work veers alarmingly close to child labor, and most everyone is virtually illiterate. There's a rich poetic elegance to "Circo," and the film's ironic images of mugging clowns and caged animals carry dramatic heft as we uncover the strife that blankets the Ponces and the familial restraints that shackle Tino's children. And yet Schock, who shot the film solo during eight visits over 21 months, remains an impartial observer. He never judges, choosing instead to have Tino's wife become the film's moral center, as she constantly questions her husband about the well-being of their kids and ultimately takes matters into her own hands. "My hope is to die here at the circus," Tino says in one scene, and we get the sense that he just might. For this devoted traditionalist, the show must go on, even if it could mean watching members of his family take their last bow and exit the ring without him.
Did you know? Tino's troupe is one of 25 different Ponce circuses currently touring Mexico. Their big-top lineage stretches back seven generations to the late 1800s.