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“Circo,” small lives under the big top.

“Circo,” small lives under the big top. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Of all the death-defying stunts performed by the Ponce family in “Circo,” the most impressive may be keeping the family business alive. Tied up in tradition more constrictive than the chains that their teenage Cascaras finds himself trying to loose himself from for the benefit of a half-filled cheering section, the Ponces are descendants of a once-strong clan of traveling circus performers. Circo Mexico, led by the indefatigable ringmaster Tino Ponce, is presented as the only example of that 100-year-old entertainment legacy to still draw a crowd as they traverse the small towns and villages of rural Mexico.

It’s no wonder director Aaron Schock centers his film on Tino, not only for Tino’s hard-earned charisma, but also given Schock’s own insistence on having no crew to help him shoot “Circo.” While Schock would have his hands full with a boom mic and a camera, Tino is similarly swamped with announcing Circo Mexico’s arrival in town, tending to the small collection of tigers and putting on his helmet to ride a motorcycle in the “Globe of Death.”

Tino doesn’t bitch about having so many responsibilities, only the rising taxes and costs of renting spaces to perform, despite the fact he labors under the thumb of a shadowy father who mainly collects money at the door, and constantly bickers with Ivonne, the long-suffering mother of Tino’s children who is always complaining about that father’s take.

06232010_Circo2.jpgSpeaking of Tino’s tykes, they can mostly be seen doing backflips or performing practical tasks like scaling electrical poles to filch some power; when Tino remarks at one point, “Your obligation as a father is to train your kids,” you’re not entirely sure if he’s talking strictly about life or the circus. Later, when one of the children tells him, “We’re just employees,” his appeal is “We’re artists of the circus.”

If that can be construed as having the potential for child abuse, Schock doesn’t discount it, showing the different paths of some of Tino’s relatives who have found lives outside the big top after either burning out or discovering something more interesting. However, the key detail “Circo” gets right is a sense of pride that carries the Ponces, and primarily Tino, through the personal and professional problems that could rip the family apart at any minute.

Though aided by a vibrant but occasionally over-aggressive score from Calexico, “Circo” isn’t exactly crackling with excitement on its own, but more of a slow burn that tiptoes around the grounds of whatever temporary locale the circus has set up in. It picks up the long-held resentments between the older family members, the burgeoning romances of the younger ones and the absolute commitment of all to keep their way of life from going extinct.

One shouldn’t expect Schock to give it new life with this film, but “Circo” does far more by preserving Circo Mexico’s place on the cultural map even if it’s fast disappearing from the geographical one.

“Circo” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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