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Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest

Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest (photo)

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“I really hate clowns,” Álex de la Iglesia admitted mere moments into his introduction for “The Last Circus” (or “Balada Triste de Trompeta,” which translates to “Ballad of the Sad Trumpet”) his epic, darkly comic story of two clowns who fight for the love of an acrobat during the tumultuous era of fascism that followed the Spanish Civil War. Joined by Carolina Bang who plays the object of the clowns’ affection, de la Iglesia made the rare trip to the States for Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles, who geeked out while telling how he was first introduced to the director’s work when someone slipped him a sixth generation VHS copy of de la Iglesia’s “Day of the Beast.” He even added that de la Iglesia had an inadvertent hand in creating Fantastic Fest since it was after a screening of “800 Bullets” in Sitges that he and Tim League first discussed the idea of a genre festival in Austin.

Greeting Knowles with a hug, de la Iglesia was far less gracious when discussing clowns, to the delight of the audience. “My father took me to the circus in some dirty place. It always smelled bad,” de la Iglesia said. “[I would wonder] why are these guys so desperate? The red nose in the middle of the face? He’s a fucking alcoholic. The big shoes, why?” He went on to wonder aloud why there was always a sad clown — “why is he there if he’s not funny?”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaLastCircus.jpgIn “The Last Circus,” the sad clown Javier (Carlos Areces) has a purpose, assigned to his lot in life after coming from a long line of funny clowns that ends when his father explains to him that he’s seen too much tragedy in his life to be funny, only minutes before his execution at the hands of a general in Franco’s army. Next thing you know, it’s 1973 in Madrid and Javier is putting on bushy eyebrows and a single black teardrop down his face to perform in circus where he meets the beautiful and dangerous Natalia (Bang), who descends from the heavens twirling on a red ribbon and winds up being Javier’s one-way ticket to hell when the two strike up an easy friendship and her jealous, abusive boyfriend Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) turns out to be the funny clown to his sad one. Upon their introduction, Sergio tells Javier if he weren’t a clown, “I’d be a murderer.”

De la Iglesia has been down this road of violent one-upsmanship before with 1999’s “Dying of Laughter,” but in weaving in actual historical events like the assassination of Blanco during the counter-cultural revolution, “The Last Circus” is one of his broadest films to date, both in terms of scope and its humor, which pulls no punches in showing a nude Javier stripping the bones of a dead deer carcass clean while hiding from Sergio in the forest or basking in the grandeur of a war sequence involving circus performers that is usually reserved for a Spielberg-Hanks World War II miniseries. Fans of de la Iglesia will appreciate that his wild streak is back after the more serious-minded “The Oxford Murders,” and while some might not spark to his occasionally outrageous sensibilities and asides, I found “The Last Circus” benefitted from a second viewing where I wasn’t quite as caught up in his always clever visuals (he is shooting in and around a circus, after all), which allowed the story and political subtext to shine through.

“I don’t want to transplant my life onto my country’s experience,” said de la Iglesia, during the post-screening Q & A in a rare moment of seriousness. “But I believe everyone in Spain has some pain and we need to talk about it. That’s why I made the movie.”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaCarolinaBang.jpgThe mood was considerably lighter during his introduction to the film when he explained the inspiration for the story that pitted a sad clown against a funny one — “With age, I’ve learned one cannot laugh if somebody else is not suffering” — and subsequently put the onus on the audience: “The only way we can have fun here is if we know others are suffering.” (He plunged the dagger in when he added, “With the money that was spent making this movie, lives could’ve been saved.”)

Following the screening, Knowles pressed him on a variety of subjects and was joined by the audience in asking about his next project (“a small drama in Spain about a man who is immobilized by an accident and cannot be moved”), his and Knowles’ shared obsession with the death of Gwen Stacy in the “Spider-Man” comic books that served as a template for a scene in “The Last Circus” (“It is something that traumatized me my whole life,” said de la Iglesia) and his reaction to people who felt his English-language diversion “The Oxford Murders” was a departure from his previous work (“People say it’s not like you. Well, who am I?”).

Knowles wasted no time in asking de la Iglesia for a return visit to Austin for a career retrospective, to which the director was at least publicly noncommittal, but it was clearly a good night for de la Iglesia, who was only weeks removed from winning the Silver Lion and an Osella for best screenplay in Venice for the film. As he growled before the curtains raised on the film, “Let’s enjoy being bad.”

“The Last Circus” will be distributed next year in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures.

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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

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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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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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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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