Life in a small travelling circus in Mexico is tough, at best, and desperate, at worst. This 19th Century entertainment is struggling to survive in the 21st Century where cell phones, satellites, wide screen TVs and the internet vie for audience attention. Director Aaron Schock follows one such family owned circus as they scrabble to keep alive their little “Circo.”
This slice of circus life brings us into a world that once thrived in entertaining the public. But, that was many years ago and the glamour we once perceived, through the movies and Barnum and Bailey, of running away to the circus is anything but glamorous in “Circo.”
Tino Ponce manages and operates Circo Mexico, a tiny affair with he and his family performing under the Big Top then, afterwards, tearing it all down to move on to the next village or town. Tino is the ringmaster of Circo Mexico and his children provide all of the entertainment – juggling, acrobatics, tightrope walking, tiger taming and an act called the Spectacular Globe of Death. However, the audiences are growing smaller and smaller every year and Tino’s dreams of making the big time are fading.
Ever increasing costs in running the circus, rising taxes and falling revenues made me wonder, as I watched “Circo,” why Tino and others like him keep going. The answer revealed is that “circus” life is drastically different than the “settled” life, the life of their audiences. The near nomadic existence represents, for the circus folk, freedom. The stationary lifestyle of the non-circus people does not appeal to these wanders so they just keep on moving and performing.
“Circo” is the kind of documentary that brings you to a different world and lifestyle. The members of Circo Mexico are hard working entertainers whose reason to be is their mostly children audience. However, as heartfelt is their dedication to the circus, economics will be the deciding factor whether this centuries old family entertainment will survive into the future or disappear. I give it a B.
For generations, the Ponce family has made its living as a traveling circus with their Gran Circo Mexico featuring members of the family walking tightropes, taming tigers, contorting themselves into pretzels and even riding a motorcycle 360 degrees within the 'Globe of Death.' But modern times and harsh economics have taken their toll. Only one son, Tino, has remained completely dedicated to his parents' business and Tino's wife Ivonne is looking for a better life for herself and their children as the show must go on in "Circo."
Aaron Schock's documentary dredged up an old memory of an overnight in a small Portuguese seaside town where a small circus pulled. We were dismayed to see the crazed cage behavior of the wild cats. While one still feels for these exotic animals kept in close quarters, "Circo" brings some new perspective. The animals of Gran Circo Mexico are loved and live just about the same kind of life as the humans who perform with them.
Besides documenting the life of a rural traveling family circus, Schock looks at how traditions of the past are challenged in today's world. Tino, who we witness learning to write, forming letters like a five year-old, has seen his sister leave for a 'settled man.' Her daughter, who she has left in her grandmother's care, is learning circus tricks but has never been to school and will soon depart for an education. Tino's brother Tacho also leaves for a town woman and his mother has nothing good to say about the older woman he has married, but he finds he cannot adjust to life in a stationary home. Ivonne resents the fact that it is her father-in-law who reaps the benefits of her family's work and tensions mount within the marriage. A tearful Tino tells us he is not sure if they will last.
The hardships are many. The basics of circus setup include such necessities as jacking electricity and maintaining equipment while the costs of renting space and taxes are rising. There is a surprising amount of competition (Tino's dad's family alone, four brothers, each have their own circus) and today's marketing must be more ingenious. Sometimes no one comes.
But there is also joy as the children become good enough to perform in the ring and the little circus offers wide variety. The family is also involved in the peripherals, like concessions including home made caramel apples and bagged cheese curls. Tino's eldest son, a handsome boy, is a celebrity with the young girls. The Gran Circo Mexico even features its own Spiderman, and theirs doesn't get injured like the ones on Broadway do.
Schock's doc has beautiful structure, building to a surprise conclusion. He has has a great eye for composition, finding beauty in the mundane. "Circo" shows us a way of life that is foreign to most of us at a time when its future existence may be in jeopardy. In order to succeed, it must scramble to the top of the heap, make it into the city - change.
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